More than ten million years of hyper-aridity recorded in the Atacama Gravels
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd The Atacama Desert's hyper-aridity is closely linked to the development of world-class copper and nitrate/iodine ores and to regional tectonics and global paleoclimate changes in the Cenozoic era. The timing when the hyper-aridity commenced remains controversial, with proposed ages ranging from Late Oligocene to Pleistocene. In this study, we provide an independent constraint on the initiation of Atacama hyper-aridity utilizing a 100-m deep profile within the Atacama Gravels and underneath porphyry copper deposit in Spence, northern Chile. The overall high concentration of sulfate (up to 10 wt%) and a multimodal distribution of water soluble salt (sulfates, chlorides and nitrates) indicate multiple generations of sedimentation and salt accumulation events under semi-arid to hyper-arid climate conditions. The multiple sulfate isotope compositions (Δ17O, δ18O, δ34S) of the upper section (−15.0 to −34.5 m) are close to those of modern hyperarid surface sulfates, while the lower section (−34.5 to −65 m) displays a depth dependent isotope trend that is best interpreted as marking a period of climate change from semi-arid to hyper-arid. When these data are combined with new chronological 40Ar/39Ar dates obtained from a volcanic ash layer at depth of −28.0 m, our results show that hyper-arid condition in the Atacama Desert was prevailing at least prior to 9.47 Ma and may go back as old as the middle Miocene.
Publication Source (Journal or Book title)
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Sun, T., Bao, H., Reich, M., & Hemming, S. (2018). More than ten million years of hyper-aridity recorded in the Atacama Gravels. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 227, 123-132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2018.02.021