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Paleowetlands and regional climate change in the central Atacama Desert, northern chile

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Jay Quade*
The Desert Laboratory and Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85745, USA
Jason A. Rech
Department of Geology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
Julio L. Betancourt
U.S. Geological Survey, 1675 West Anklam Road, Tucson, AZ 85745, USA
Claudio Latorre
CASEB-Departamento de Ecología, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, 114-D Chile Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB), Casilla 653, Santiago, Chile
Barbra Quade
612 East First Street, Tucson, Arizona 85705, USA
Kate Aasen Rylander
U.S. Geological Survey, 1675 West Anklam Road, Tucson, AZ 85745, USA
Timothy Fisher
Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
*Corresponding author. Fax: +1 520 621 2679.E-mail (J. Quade).


Widespread, organic-rich diatomaceous deposits are evidence for formerly wetter times along the margins of the central Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth today. We mapped and dated these paleowetland deposits at three presently waterless locations near Salar de Punta Negra (24.5°S) on the western slope of the Andes. Elevated groundwater levels supported phreatic discharge into wetlands during two periods: 15,900 to ~ 13,800 and 12,700 to ~ 9700 cal yr BP. Dense concentrations of lithic artifacts testify to the presence of paleoindians around the wetlands late in the second wet phase (11,000?–9700 cal yr BP). Water tables dropped below the surface before 15,900 and since 8100 cal yr BP, and briefly between ~ 13,800 and 12,700 cal yr BP. This temporal pattern is repeated, with some slight differences, in rodent middens from the study area, in both paleowetland and rodent midden deposits north and south of the study area, and in lake level fluctuations on the adjacent Bolivian Altiplano. The regional synchroneity of these changes points to a strengthening of the South American Monsoon — which we term the "Central Andean Pluvial Event" — in two distinct intervals (15,900–13,800 and 12,700–9700 cal yr BP), probably induced by steepened SST gradients across the tropical Pacific (i.e., La Niña-like conditions).

Original Articles
University of Washington

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