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Laguna Mar Chiquita is a highly variable closed saline lake located in the Pampean Plains of central Argentina. Presently is the largest saline lake in South America (∼ 6,000 km2) and also one of the largest in the world. During the 20th century the hydrological balance of the region was characterized by contrasting scenarios. Well-defined wet or dry climatic phases had ruled the lake level fluctuations and the rivers discharge, mainly controlling the geochemical composition of sediments. Sediments accumulated during positive hydrological balances (i.e., high lake level) are mainly composed of allogenic mineral due to higher riverine inputs into the lake. This fluvial-dominated lake phases are recorded as sediments enriched in Al2O3, SiO2, K2O, Fe2O3 and TiO2 and in trace elements such as Co, Cr, Cs, Rb, Sc, Hf, Ta, Th as well as rare earth elements (REE). Sediments accumulated during dry phases (i.e., low lake levels and high salinity) are evaporite mineral-rich with elevated concentrations of CaO, MnO, MgO, and P2O5. High contents of As and U are probably due to a co-precitation during high evaporative phases. The calibration of the sediment chemical composition of Laguna Mar Chiquita to well-defined water-level fluctuations of the 20th century shows that elemental geochemistry can be a useful proxy to study former lake-water fluctuations. It may further provide a comparative model to evaluate past environmental conditions in other saline lacustrine basins.
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