Scientific drilling conducted at the inner slope of the Miocene central Ries impact crater recovered a partial section of crater lake sediments. Four sequences were recovered, composed of suevite-derived sandstones, thin lignite seams, bituminous shales, and marlstones to claystones. These flooding-evaporation sequences reflect the impact of short-term climatic fluctuations on a hydrologically closed basin. The superimposed trend from sequences rich in bituminous shales in the lower parts of the section to sequences dominated by organic-poor claystones and intercalated lignites in the upper parts of the section resembles that of the 300-m-thick central crater basin succession, which has previously been considered to reflect a climate-controlled development from an alkaline saline lake to a freshwater lake with temporary coal swamps. In the sediment core of Enkingen, however, the change from bituminous shales to organic-poor claystones with intercalated lignites is associated with a general increase in salinity, as indicated by (1) palynomorphs, (2) increase in δ13C of the lipid biomarker archaeol (bis-O-phytanylglycerol), and (3) the occurrence of 13C-enriched C20/C25-archaeol (O-phytanyl-O-sesterterpanylglycerol) specific to halophilic Archaea. In addition, the unidirectional trend in 87Sr/86Sr of carbonates, declining from ratios of Variscan basement rocks toward marine ratios, indicates a change from (1) weathering of crystalline rocks and suevite to (2) ejected Jurassic sediments (Bunte Breccia) in the catchment area as the major source of ion influx to the lake. From that trend, a change in lake water composition and a general increase in ion concentrations are inferred. These new results can be applied to a reassessment of major parts of the lacustrine succession of the Ries crater. We use these data to propose a new hypothetical model for the chemical and ecological evolution of the Ries crater lake: (1) After the establishment of a stratified brackish eutrophic soda lake due to silicate weathering and evaporation, the increasing influx of waters from the Bunte Breccia carbonate and authigenic silicate precipitation led to a mesotrophic halite lake with marine-like ion ratios and concentrations. (2) Further increase in ions, among them Mg2+ and Sr2+, resulted in hypersaline conditions with gypsum precipitation, low primary production, and phreatic Sr-rich dolomitization in marginal carbonates. (3) The final, sudden change to oligotrophic freshwater conditions is explained by the formation of an outlet late in the lake history. We conclude that the chemical and ecological evolution of the Ries lake therefore appears to have been mainly controlled by the weathering history of the catchment area, with climate fluctuations causing superimposed cycles. Similarly, changes in terrestrial palynomorph associations may at least partly reflect a change in soil types in the catchment area, from fertile, moist soils on suevite to dry karst soils and soils on Bunte Breccia. These interpretations imply that the initial suevite blanket of the Ries crater was much more continuous and widespread than previously assumed.

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