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Depositional evolution of an extinct sinter mound from source to outflow, El Tatio, Chile

Abstract : Siliceous sinter deposits from El Tatio, Chile, preserve a wide variety of depositional environments and biosignatures, from high-temperature (~85°C) vent-proximal facies to distal deposits dominated by silicified microbial mats. Four cores were drilled into an El Tatio sinter mound and associated distal apron to investigate changes in hydrothermal environments over geologic timescales. Sedimentary and geochemical analysis of multiple sinter cores records the initiation and accretion of diverse depositional features still observed today in El Tatio. Facies adjacent to hydrothermal vents are dominated by laminated sinter crusts on the steep margins of a high-temperature pool, with sparse microbial preservation. Outer margins of the same pool contain extensive sinter columns up to ten centimeters in length, precipitated during repeated cycles of pool overflow and subsequent evaporation. Low-relief hydrothermal pools also form minor deposits within distal debris aprons, and analogous pools are still active close to sampling locations. Debris aprons are dominated by palisade, tufted, and arborescent microbial fabrics, with distinct mat textures revealing well preserved microfossils. Surficial deposits in all cores feature detrital-rich and microbially-influenced sinters overlying higher-temperature facies, indicating a relative decrease in hydrothermal activity over time. Geochemical proxies for hydrothermal fluids and de-trital input match depositional interpretations based on sedimentary structures. 14 C ages from core deposits extend the mound's history by 11,000 years, recording at least three thousand years of sinter deposition on top of glacial sandstones (13,337-10,232 y. cal. BP). Importantly, this work provides a detailed depositional model unavailable through surficial sedimentology alone.
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Dylan T. Wilmeth, Sami Nabhan, Kimberly D. Myers, Silvina Slagter, Stefan V. Lalonde, et al.. Depositional evolution of an extinct sinter mound from source to outflow, El Tatio, Chile. Sedimentary Geology, Elsevier, 2020, 406, pp.105726. ⟨10.1016/j.sedgeo.2020.105726⟩. ⟨insu-02943000⟩

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