Isotopic analysis of nitrate and sulfate minerals from the nitrate ore fields of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile has shown anomalous 17O enrichments in both minerals. Δ17O values of 14–21 ‰ in nitrate and 0.4 to 4 ‰ in sulfate are the most positive found in terrestrial minerals to date. Modeling of atmospheric processes indicates that the Δ17O signatures are the result of photochemical reactions in the troposphere and stratosphere. We conclude that the bulk of the nitrate, sulfate and other soluble salts in some parts of the Atacama Desert must be the result of atmospheric deposition of particles produced by gas to particle conversion, with minor but varying amounts from sea spray and local terrestrial sources. Flux calculations indicate that the major salt deposits could have accumulated from atmospheric deposition in a period of 200,000 to 2.0 M years during hyper-arid conditions similar to those currently found in the Atacama Desert. Correlations between Δ17O and δ18O in nitrate salts from the Atacama Desert and Mojave Desert, California, indicate varying fractions of microbial and photochemical end-member sources. The photochemical nitrate isotope signature is well preserved in the driest surficial environments that are almost lifeless, whereas the microbial nitrate isotope signature becomes dominant rapidly with increasing moisture, biologic activity, and nitrogen cycling. These isotopic signatures have important implications for paleoclimate, astrobiology, and N cycling studies.
|Title||Long term atmospheric deposition as the source of nitrate and other salts in the Atacama Desert, Chile: New evidence from mass-independent oxygen isotopic compositions|
|Authors||Greg Michalski, J. K. Böhlke, Mark Thiemens|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Toxic Substances Hydrology Program|