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In-stream wetland deposits, megadroughts, and cultural change in the northern Atacama Desert, Chile

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 February 2019

Craig D. Tully
Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
Jason A. Rech*
Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
T. Race Workman
Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
Calogero M. Santoro
Instituto de Alta Investigación, Universidad de Tarapacá, Antofagasta1520, Arica 00236, Chile
José M. Capriles
Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania16802, USA
Eugenia M. Gayo
Departamento de Oceanografia, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción 4070386, Chile Center for Climate Change and Resilience Research (CR2), Santiago 8370415, Chile
Claudio Latorre
Centro UC del Desierto de Atacama & Departamento de Ecología, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Alameda 340, Santiago 6513677, Chile Institute of Ecology & Biodiversity (IEB), Casilla 653, Santiago 6513677, Chile
*Corresponding author at: Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA. E-mail address: (J.A. Rech).


A key concern regarding current and future climate change is the possibility of sustained droughts that can have profound impacts on societies. As such, multiple paleoclimatic proxies are needed to identify megadroughts, the synoptic climatology responsible for these droughts, and their impacts on past and future societies. In the hyperarid Atacama Desert of northern Chile, many streams are characterized by perennial flow and support dense in-stream wetlands. These streams possess sequences of wetland deposits as fluvial terraces that record past changes in the water table. We mapped and radiocarbon dated a well-preserved sequence of in-stream wetland deposits along a 4.3-km reach of the Río San Salvador in the Calama basin to determine the relationship between regional climate change and the incision of in-stream wetlands. The Río San Salvador supported dense wetlands from 11.1 to 9.8, 6.4 to 3.5, 2.8 to 1.3, and 1.0 to 0.5 ka and incised at the end of each of these intervals. Comparison with other in-stream wetland sequences in the Atacama Desert, and with regional paleoclimatic archives, indicates that in-stream wetlands responded similarly to climatic changes by incising during periods of extended drought at ~9.8, 3.5, 1.3, and 0.5 ka.

Thematic Set: Drylands
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2019 

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