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A late Quaternary paleoenvironmental record in sand dunes of the northern Atacama Desert, Chile

  • Kari M. Finstad (a1) (a2), Marco Pfeiffer (a1) (a3), Gavin McNicol (a1) (a4) (a5), Michael Tuite (a6), Kenneth Williford (a6) and Ronald Amundson (a1)...

This paper reports a previously unidentified paleoenvironmental record found in sand dunes of the Atacama Desert, Chile. Long-term aeolian deflation by prevailing onshore winds has resulted in the deposition of sand on the irregular surface of a Miocene-aged anhydrite outcrop. Two deposits ~25 km apart, along the prevailing wind trajectory, were hand excavated then analyzed for vertical (and temporal) changes in physical and chemical composition. Radiocarbon ages of organic matter embedded within the deposits show that rapid accumulation of sediment began at the last glacial maximum and slowed considerably after the Pacific Ocean attained its present post-glacial level. Over this time period, grain sizes are seen to increase while accumulation rates simultaneously decrease, suggesting greater wind speeds and/or a change or decrease in sediment supply. Changes in δ34S values of sulfate in the sediment beginning ~10 ka indicate an increase in marine sources. Similarly, δ2H values from palmitic acid show a steady increase at ~10 ka, likely resulting from aridification of the region during the Holocene. Due to the extreme aridity in the region, these sand dunes retain a well-preserved chemical record that reflects changes in elevation and coastal proximity after the last glacial maximum.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author at: Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 7000 East Ave, L-397, Livermore, CA 94550, USA. E-mail address: (K.M. Finstad).
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