Abstract

New K–Ar and 40Ar/39Ar data obtained for 29 samples of supergene alunite-, jarosite- and hollandite-group minerals from the Central Depression of Northern Chile document almost continuous supergene oxidation from 33 to 9 Ma. The downward migration of supergene oxidation zones is used to calculate maximum denudation rates of 16–35 m Ma−1. These calculated rates are sensitive to pre-existing topography and show that the present relief observed in the Central Depression represents a modified Miocene landscape. The results presented here are in good agreement with previously published geochronological data for the Atacama Desert. The combination of all published data, including the results presented here, defines a continuous skewed distribution, with a maximum between 21 and 14 Ma. The relative paucity of ages greater than 30 Ma reflects the removal of supergene profiles by erosion during and immediately after the Incaic compressive deformation. From 29 to 9 Ma, supergene oxidation profiles were generated under semi-arid conditions throughout the Atacama region. Ages between 9 and 5 Ma on the northern and southern margins of the desert mark the end of supergene oxidation processes, consistent with a Pliocene onset of present-day hyperaridity.

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