A late quaternary paleoenvironmental record in sand dunes of the northern Atacama desert, Chile
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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 similar to 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 delta S-34 values of sulfate in the sediment beginning similar to 10 ka indicate an increase in marine sources. Similarly, delta H-2 values from palmitic acid show a steady increase at similar to 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.
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