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Groundwater origin and recharge in the hyperarid Cordillera de la Costa, Atacama Desert, northern Chile
- Herrera, Christian, Gamboa, Carolina, Custodio, Emilio, Jordan, Teresa, Godfrey, Linda, Jódar, Jorge, Luque, José A., Vargas, Jimmy, Sáez, Alberto
- The Science of the total environment 2018 v.624 pp. 114-132
- air, alluvium, aquifers, carbon, coasts, deserts, deuterium, dry environmental conditions, groundwater, mixing, models, oxygen, paleoclimatology, radionuclides, sodium chloride, stable isotopes, volcanic rocks, wells, Andes region, Atlantic Ocean, Chile, Pacific Ocean
- The Cordillera de la Costa is located along the coastline of northern Chile, in the hyperarid Atacama Desert area. Chemical and isotopic analyses of several small coastal springs and groundwater reservoirs between 22.5 °S and 25.5 °S allow understanding groundwater origin, renewal time and the probable timing of recharge. The aquifers are mostly in old volcanic rocks and alluvial deposits. All spring waters are brackish, of the sodium chloride type due to intensive concentration of precipitation due aridity and for deep groundwater to additional water-rock interaction in slowly renewed groundwater and mixing with deep seated brines. The heavy δ¹⁸O and δ²H values in spring water are explained by recharge by the arrival of moist air masses from the Pacific Ocean and the originally lighter values in the deep wells can be associated to past recharge by air masses coming from the Atlantic Ocean. Current recharge is assumed almost nil but it was significant in past wetter-than-present periods, increasing groundwater reserves, which are not yet exhausted. To explain the observed chloride content and radiocarbon (¹⁴C) activity, a well-mixed (exponential) flow model has been considered for aquifer recharge. The average residence time of groundwater feeding the springs has been estimated between 1 and 2kyr, up to 5kyr and between 7 and 13kyr for deep well water, assuming that current recharge is much less than during the previous wetter period. The recharge period feeding the coastal springs could have been produced 1 to 5kyr BP, when the area was already inhabited, and recharge in the Michilla mine was produced during the 10 to 14.5kyr BP CAPE (Central Andean Pluvial Event) pluvial events of the central Andes. The approximate coincidence of turnover time with the past wet periods, as revealed by paleoclimate data, points to significant recharge during them.