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Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 2018 Aug;111(8):1273-1291. doi: 10.1007/s10482-018-1024-x. Epub 2018 Feb 14.

Geology and geochemistry of the Atacama Desert.

Author information

1
Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile. pepeline.999@gmail.com.
2
Departamento de Ciencias Geológicas, Facultad de Ingeniería y Ciencias Geológicas, Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile.
3
Advanced Mining Technology Center, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.
4
Departamento de Geología, Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.
5
Departamento de Ciencias de la Tierra, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción, Chile.
6
Carrera de Geología, Facultad de Ingeniería, Universidad Andres Bello, Sazie 2119, Santiago, Chile.

Abstract

The Atacama Desert, the driest of its kind on Earth, hosts a number of unique geological and geochemical features that make it unlike any other environment on the planet. Considering its location on the western border of South America, between 17 and 28 °S, its climate has been characterized as arid to hyperarid for at least the past 10 million years. Notably dry climatic conditions of the Atacama Desert have been related to uplift of the Andes and are believed to have played an important role in the development of the most distinctive features of this desert, including: (i) nitrates and iodine deposits in the Central Depression, (ii) secondary enrichment in porphyry copper deposits in the Precordillera, (iii) Li enrichment in salt flats of the Altiplano, and (iv) life in extreme habitats. The geology and physiography of the Atacama Desert have been largely shaped by the convergent margin present since the Mesozoic era. The geochemistry of surface materials is related to rock geochemistry (Co, Cr, Fe, Mn, V, and Zn), salt flats, and evaporite compositions in endorheic basins (As, B, and Li), in addition to anthropogenic activities (Cu, Mo, and Pb). The composition of surface water is highly variable, nonetheless in general it presents a circumneutral pH with higher conductivity and total dissolved solids in brines. Major water constituents, with the exception of HCO3-, are generally related to the increase of salinity, and despite the fact that trace elements are not well-documented, surface waters of the Atacama Desert are enriched in As, B, and Li when compared to the average respective concentrations in rivers worldwide.

KEYWORDS:

Atacama Desert; Geochemistry; Geology; Mineral deposits

PMID:
29445901
DOI:
10.1007/s10482-018-1024-x
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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