The Atacama Desert on the western margin of the Central Andes is one of the driest and oldest deserts in the world. It is defined by a distinct and ancient surface, known as the Pacific Paleosurface (PPS) or Atacama Paleosurface. The age of this surface is determined as the time at which sediment deposition ceased, and the surface was effectively abandoned. Early studies suggested that this abandonment took place between 14 and 10 Ma, and was related to both the uplift of the Andes and the onset of hyperaridity in the region. Here we provide a regional re-examination of the PPS, compiling existing work on the underlying geology, sedimentology, surface exposure dating, and seismic profiling. We also present new multispectral satellite maps of the PPS and 45 new cosmogenic 3He and 21Ne surface exposure ages in order to constrain the formation age, and the preservation and incision history of the paleosurface. We conclude that the PPS is not a single paleosurface, but instead is a mosaic of smaller surfaces that were formed by aggradational and degradational processes over 19 million years (or more) and should be termed collectively as the Pacific Paleosurfaces. The time at which individual paleosurfaces formed is related to regional climate, where the location of each is controlled by regional tectonic activity. Cosmogenic surface exposure ages suggest that the surfaces are a record of regional scale climate events.
- cosmogenic surface exposure dating
- desert pavement
- landscape evolution
- remote sensing