Large paleolakes (∼33,000–60,000 km2) that once occupied the high-altitude Poopo, Coipasa, and Uyuni Basins in southern Bolivia (18–22°S) provide evidence of major changes in low-latitude moisture. In these now-dry or oligosaline basins, extensive natural exposure reveals evidence for two deep-lake and several minor-lake cycles over the past 120 k.y. Fifty-three new U-Th and 87 new 14C dates provide a chronologic framework for changes in lake level. Deposits from the “Ouki” deep-lake cycle are extensively exposed in the Poopo Basin, but no deep lakes are apparent in the record between 98 and 18.1 ka. The Ouki lake cycle was ∼80 m deep, and nineteen U-Th dates place this deep-lake cycle between 120 and 98 ka. Shallow lakes were present in the terminal Uyuni Basin between 95 and 80 ka (Salinas lake cycle), at ca. 46 (Inca Huasi lake cycle), and between 24 and 20.5 ka (Sajsi lake cycle). The Tauca deep-lake cycle occurred between 18.1 and 14.1 ka, resulting in the deepest (∼140 m) and largest lake in the basin over the past 120 ka. Multiple 14C and U-Th dates constrain the highest stand of Lake Tauca along a topographically conspicuous shoreline between 16.4 and 14.1 ka. A probable post-Tauca lake cycle (the Coipasa) produced a ≤55-m-deep lake that is tentatively dated between 13 and 11 ka.

We suggest that paleolakes on the Bolivian Altiplano expanded in response to increased moisture in the Amazon and enhanced transport of that moisture onto the Altiplano by strengthened trade winds or southward displacement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Pole-to-equator sea-surface temperature (SST) and atmospheric gradients may have influenced the position of the ITCZ, affecting moisture balance over the Altiplano and at other locations in the Amazon Basin. Links between the position of the ITCZ and the ca. 23 ka precessional solar cycle have been postulated. March insolation over the Altiplano is a relatively good fit to our lake record, but no single season or latitude of solar cycling has yet to emerge as the primary driver of climate over the entire Amazon Basin. Temperature may influence Altiplano lake levels indirectly, as potentially dry glacial periods in the Amazon Basin are linked to dry conditions on the Altiplano. Intensification of the trade winds associated with La Niña–like conditions currently brings increased precipitation on the Altiplano, and deep-lake development during the Tauca lake cycle coincided with apparently intense and persistent La Niña–like conditions in the central Pacific. This suggests that SST gradients in the Pacific are also a major influence on deep-lake development on the Altiplano.

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