Geology and geochemistry of the Atacama Desert

J. Tapia, R. González, B. Townley, V. Oliveros, F. Álvarez, G. Aguilar, A. Menzies, M. Calderón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalAntonie van Leeuwenhoek, International Journal of General and Molecular Microbiology
Volume111
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Feb 2018

Keywords

  • Atacama Desert
  • Geochemistry
  • Geology
  • Mineral deposits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology

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