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Late Quaternary history of the Atacama Desert

By: , and 
Edited by: Mike Smith and Paul Hesse

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Abstract

Of the major subtropical deserts found in the Southern Hemisphere, the Atacama Desert is the driest. Throughout the Quaternary, the most pervasive climatic influence on the desert has been millennial-scale changes in the frequency and seasonality of the scant rainfall, and associated shifts in plant and animal distributions with elevation along the eastern margin of the desert. Over the past six years, we have mapped modern vegetation gradients and developed a number of palaeoenvironmental records, including vegetation histories from fossil rodent middens, groundwater levels from wetland (spring) deposits, and lake levels from shoreline evidence, along a 1200-kilometre transect (16–26°S) in the Atacama Desert. A strength of this palaeoclimate transect has been the ability to apply the same methodologies across broad elevational, latitudinal, climatic, vegetation and hydrological gradients. We are using this transect to reconstruct the histories of key components of the South American tropical (summer) and extratropical (winter) rainfall belts, precisely at those elevations where average annual rainfall wanes to zero. The focus has been on the transition from sparse, shrubby vegetation (known as the prepuna) into absolute desert, an expansive hyperarid terrain that extends from just above the coastal fog zone (approximately 800 metres) to more than 3500 metres in the most arid sectors in the southern Atacama.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Late Quaternary history of the Atacama Desert
Chapter 6
ISBN 1876944307
Year Published 2005
Language English
Publisher National Museum of Australia Press
Description 18 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title 23° S: Archaeology and Environmental History of the Southern Deserts
First page 73
Last page 90
Country Argetina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru
Other Geospatial Atacama Desert
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N