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Isotopic characterization of late Neogene travertine deposits at Barrancas Blancas in the eastern Atacama Desert, Chile

October 1, 2017

Here we explore the potential of spring-related, surface and subsurface carbonates as an archive of paleoenvironmental change at Barrancas Blancas, located in the broadest and driest sector of the Atacama Desert at 24.5°S. From these deposits we present a new stable isotopic record of paleoenvironmental conditions over portions of the past ~ 11.5 Ma. U-Pb dates from the carbonates, both surface and subsurface, demonstrate that springs have discharged at this location over much of the last 11.5 Ma, attesting to the exceptional geomorphic stability of the central Atacama. Many of the sampled vein systems line vertical fissures, and formed within the aquifer before groundwater discharged at the surface. Carbonates in such circumstances should not undergo off-gassing and kinetic fractionation prior to formation, simplifying the interpretation of their isotopic composition. Oxygen isotopic compositions of carbonates are generally high (>− 5‰VPDB), and using paleospring water temperatures of 3–13 °C reconstructed from clumped isotopes, point to strongly (up to 50%) evaporated water isotope values, like those associated with the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert today. Carbon isotopic compositions are also high (≥+3‰ PDB), reflecting a recharge area essentially devoid of plants and dominated by volcanic CO2, as is the case today. Our isotopic results are very similar to those from the Calama Basin to the north, suggesting that the western face of the Andes between 21 and 25°S has been highly evaporative and nearly plantless when these springs discharged over the last 11.5 Ma. The spring carbonates at Barrancas Blancas strongly resemble those found at Devils Hole and Furnace Creek in Death Valley, USA, and as such warrant further exploration as potential archives of climate change.

Publication Year 2017
Title Isotopic characterization of late Neogene travertine deposits at Barrancas Blancas in the eastern Atacama Desert, Chile
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2017.05.004
Authors J. Quade, E.T. Rasbury, K.W. Huntington, Adam M. Hudson, H. Vonhof, K. Anchukaitis, Julio L. Betancourt, C. Latorre, M. Pepper
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Chemical Geology
Index ID 70192114
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Eastern Branch