On the origin and processes controlling the elemental and isotopic composition of carbonates in hypersaline Andean lakes

Paula A. Vignoni*, Hana Jurikova, Birgit Schröder, Rik Tjallingii, Francisco E. Córdoba, Karina L. Lecomte, Sylvia Pinkerneil, Ieva Grudzinska, Anja M. Schleicher, Sofía A. Viotto, Carla D. Santamans, James W.B. Rae, Achim Brauer

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Altiplano-Puna Plateau of the Central Andes hosts numerous lakes, playa-lakes, and salars with a great diversity and abundance of carbonates forming under extreme climatic, hydrologic, and environmental conditions. To unravel the underlying processes controlling the formation of carbonates and their geochemical signatures in hypersaline systems, we investigated coupled brine-carbonate samples in a high-altitude Andean lake using a wide suite of petrographic (SEM, XRD) and geochemical tools (δ2H, δ18O, δ13C, δ11B, major and minor ion composition, aqueous modelling). Our findings show that the inflow of hydrothermal springs in combination with strong CO2 degassing and evaporation plays an important role in creating a spatial diversity of hydro-chemical sub-environments allowing different types of microbialites (microbial mounds and mats), travertines, and fine-grained calcite minerals to form. Carbonate precipitation occurs in hot springs triggered by a shift in carbonate equilibrium by hydrothermal CO2 degassing and microbially-driven elevation of local pH at crystallisation. In lakes, carbonate precipitation is induced by evaporative supersaturation, with contributions from CO2 degassing and microbiological processes. Lake carbonates largely record the evaporitic enrichment (hence salinity) of the parent water which can be traced by Na, Li, B, and δ18O, although other factors (such as e.g., high precipitation rates, mixing with thermal waters, groundwater, or precipitation) also affect their signatures. This study is of significance to those dealing with the fractionation of oxygen, carbon, and boron isotopes and partitioning of elements in natural brine-carbonate environments. Furthermore, these findings contribute to the advancement in proxy development for these depositional environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-83
Number of pages19
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Early online date19 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024


  • Lacustrine carbonate archives
  • Brine-carbonate chemistry
  • Partitioning coefficients
  • Boron isotopes
  • Laguna del Peinado


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