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Highlights

  • Halite caves in Atacama have been explored
  • Secondary cave minerals of these salt caves have been analysed
  • Sixteen cave minerals have been discovered
  • Antarcticite, atacamite, leonite, darapskite, and blödite are the most interesting ones
  • Genetical mechanisms explain the genesis of some of these minerals

Abstract

Over the past 15 years several expeditions by French, American and especially Italian cavers have unveiled over 50 caves in the Cordillera de la Sal (Atacama Desert, Northern Chile). Many of these caves contain a variety of speleothems and minerals, some of which have rarely been observed within karst systems. Most of the secondary deposits in these caves are composed of halite, but also other halide, carbonate, sulphate, nitrate, phosphate, and silicate minerals have been found. Among the sixteen cave mineral species recognized, atacamite, darapskite, blödite, leonite, anhydrite, and especially antarcticite are worth mentioning. In one of the samples an unknown Ca-Sr-bearing chloride mineral has also been discovered, but it has not been possible to carry out detailed mineralogical analyses. These often-rare minerals have formed in this region due to the very extreme hyperarid and salt-rich environment. This research reports the mineralogical results and proposes the genetical mechanisms leading to the formation of antarcticite, powdery anhydrite, and the paragenesis of the halite-darapskite-blödite. This study also shows that Atacama caves may be excellent analogues to study weathering processes and subsurface secondary minerals in hyperarid and hypersaline environments on Mars.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.5038/1827-806X.46.1.2094

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