Early to Middle Miocene climate in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile

Erik Oerter, Ronald Amundson, Arjun Heimsath, Matthew Jungers, Guillermo Chong, Paul Renne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The Cenozoic paleoclimate of the Atacama Desert is not well known. We examined 14 early to mid-Miocene paleosols exposed in the El Tesoro Mine, near Calama, Chile. The paleosols developed on an aggrading alluvial fan system, and lie above the mineralized gravel horizons that host a copper ore body. Soil-forming conditions that oscillated between chemical weathering and clay production (humid: analogous to modern Alfisols) to environments favoring the accumulation of pedogenic carbonate (arid to semi-arid: analogous to modern Aridisols) are indicated. In contrast, the region is presently hyperarid, and soils accumulate sulfates, chlorides, and nitrates. While total chemical analyses clearly show the accumulation of Ca by the carbonate-rich paleosols, none of the soils exhibit significant losses of elements by leaching. The δ18O values of the carbonates range from -8.79‰ to -3.16‰ (VPDB). The O isotope data, when combined with published data from the region, reveal a significant divergence in the O isotope composition of precipitation in the eastern and western margins of the Andean plateau since the early Miocene, suggesting that simple interpretations of declining δ18O values of carbonate with increasing elevation may not be appropriate. These paleosols clearly indicate that wetter conditions prevailed in what is now the Atacama Desert during the early to mid-Miocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)890-900
Number of pages11
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Andes Mountains
  • Atacama paleoclimate
  • Hyperaridity
  • Paleosol
  • Pedogenic carbonate
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Early to Middle Miocene climate in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this