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Miocene to recent history of the western Altiplano in northern Chile revealed by lacustrine sediments of the Lauca basin (18°15′–18°40′ S/69°30′–69°05′W)


The intramontane Lauca Basin at the western margin of the northern Chilean Altiplano lies to the west of and is topographically isolated from the well-known Plio-Pleistocene lake system of fluvio-lacustrine origin that covers the Bolivian Altiplano from Lake Titicaca to the north for more than 800 km to the Salar de Uyuni in the south. The Lauca Basin is filled by a sequence of some 120 m of mainly upper Miocene to Pliocene elastic and volcaniclastic sediments of lacustrine and alluvial origin. Volcanic rocks, partly pyroelastic, provide useful marker horizons. In the first period (6–4 Ma) of its evolution, the ‘Lago Lauca’ was a shallow ephemeral lake. Evaporites indicate temporarily closed conditions. After 4 Ma the lake changed to a perennial water body surrounded by alluvial plains. In the late Pleistocene and Holocene (2-0 Ma) there was only marginal deposition of alluvial and glacial sediments. The basin formed as a half-graben or by pull-apart between 10 and 15 Ma (tectonic displacement of the basal ignimbrite sequence during the ‘Quechua Phase’) and 6.2 Ma (maximum K/Ar ages of biotites of tuff horizons in the deepest part of the basin). Apart from this early basin formation, there has been surprisingly little displacement during the past 6 Ma close to the Western Cordillera of the Altiplano. Also, climate indicators (pollen, evaporites, sedimentary facies) suggest that an arid climate has existed for the past 6 Ma on the Altiplano. Together, these pieces of evidence indicate the absence of large scale block-faulting, tilt and major uplift during the past 5–6 Ma in this area.

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Kött, A., Gaupp, R. & Wörner, G. Miocene to recent history of the western Altiplano in northern Chile revealed by lacustrine sediments of the Lauca basin (18°15′–18°40′ S/69°30′–69°05′W). Geol Rundsch 84, 770–780 (1995).

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Key words

  • Chilean Altiplano
  • Plio-Pleistocene lake evolution
  • Andean uplift and tectonism