Abstract

The age of onset of hyperaridity in the Atacama Desert, Chile, which is needed to validate geological and climatological concepts, has been heretofore uncertain. Measurement of cosmogenic 21Ne in clasts from erosion-sensitive sediment surfaces in northern Chile shows that these surfaces have been barely affected by erosion since 25 Ma. Surface exposure ages of sediment clasts give replicate values at 25, 20, and 14 Ma and individual values at 37 and 9 Ma. Predominantly hyperarid conditions are required to preserve these oldest continuously exposed surfaces on Earth. Our findings are compatible with the hypothesis that the onset of aridity in the Atacama Desert could be the reason for, rather than the consequence of, uplift of the high Andes.

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