Sulfate sources, biologic cycling, and mobility in Atacama Desert soils revealed by isotope signatures

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Title:Main Title: Sulfate sources, biologic cycling, and mobility in Atacama Desert soils revealed by isotope signatures
Description:Abstract: A set of 55 surface samples from Atacama Desert gypsisols was collected along four altitude transects and analyzed for Δ17OSO4, δ18OSO4, δ34SSO4, and 87Sr/86Sr in order to identify the main depositional mechanisms and quantify the proportional contribution of sulfate sources across the desert’s main topographic units – the Coastal Cordillera, the Central Depression, and the Precordillera. Sulfate deposited at any location in the Atacama Desert may derive from up to five different source and process endmembers that can principally be identified by their isotopic composition. Three aerosol sources dominate sulfate deposition and accumulation in gypsisols throughout the Atacama. These are secondary atmospheric Ca- and Na-sulfate derived from global volcanic SO2 oxidized by ozone and its derivates, and a marine sulfate aerosol that is roughly a 9:1 mixture of sea salt (primary) sulfate from evaporated sea spray, and secondary non-sea salt sulfate, i.e., dimethyl sulfide (DMS) mainly oxidized by ozone. These marine sources dominate sulfate deposition in the Coastal Cordillera. Unlike in most places on Earth, the positive mass-independent Δ17OSO4 signature of secondary atmospheric sulfate is ubiquitous in Atacama Desert soils and is never completely erased by biologic cycling. Hence, biologic cycling of the sulfate inventory – i.e., the reduction of sulfate, subsequent oxygen isotope exchange with water, and re-oxidation – is apparently not quantitative in any of the Atacama Desert environments sampled here, including the most biologically active permanent salt lakes. The preservation of highest Δ17OSO4 values (~ 1.0‰) at altitudes of the Coastal Cordillera above the 1200 m altitude cut-off level of fog advection suggest that episodic rainfall events are insufficient for significant in situ biologic sulfate turnover. At lower altitudes and regular fog advection, moisture supply appears to be sufficient for limited in situ biologic sulfate turnover. Overall, biologically recycled sulfate constitutes a fourth major contributor to the desert’s gypsisol sulfate inventory. This may comprise fluvially redeposited sulfate from older sediments, particularly on the debris fans protruding from the Precordillera into the Central Depression. In the Central Depression, Sr-isotopes may allow for a further distinction between redeposition-dominated and aerosol-dominated sedimentation environments. On the Precordillera, rainfall and run-off provide sufficient moisture for significant but still incomplete in situ biologic sulfate cycling. Hydrothermal non-evaporitic Na-sulfate – the fifth potential source – likely originates from larger outflow events or mobilization from rock veins over the course of the Atacama’s geologic history may contribute locally to the sulfate inventory. The degree of bio-cycling and mobility of sulfate likely reflects a balance between overall water availability and the mixing proportion of very soluble (mobile) Na-sulfate and less soluble Ca-sulfate inherent in the various sulfate sources.
Responsible Party
Creators:Swea Klipsch (Author), Daniel Herwartz (Author), Claudia Voigt (Author), Carsten Münker (Author), Guillermo Chong (Author), Michael Ernst Böttcher (Author), Michael Staubwasser (Author)
Publication Year:2023
CRC1211 Topic:Surface
Related Subproject:C4
Subjects:Keywords: Stable Isotope Geochemistry, Biogeochemistry of Soils, Geobiology
Geogr. Information Topic:Environment
File Details
Data Type:Text - Publication
File Size:7.3 MB
Date:Accepted: 25.10.2023
Mime Type:application/pdf
Data Format:PDF
Download Permission:Only Project Members
General Access and Use Conditions:According to the CRC1211DB data policy agreement.
Access Limitations:According to the CRC1211DB data policy agreement.
Licence:[Creative Commons] Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Specific Information - Publication
Publication Status:Accepted
Review Status:Peer reviewed
Publication Type:Article
Article Type:Journal
Source:Global and Planetary Change
Source Website:
Number of Pages:16 (1 - 16)
Metadata Details
Metadata Creator:Swea Klipsch
Metadata Created:28.11.2023
Metadata Last Updated:28.11.2023
Funding Phase:1
Metadata Language:English
Metadata Version:V50
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