Onset of Convective Rainfall During Gradual Late Miocene Rise of the Central Andes

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Science  23 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5977, pp. 490-493
DOI: 10.1126/science.1185078

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Separated About Lift

The uplift history of the Andes of South America is a contentious issue, with the two main hypotheses polarizing from rapid growth between roughly 10 and 7 million years ago to more gradual elevation over most of the past 40 million years. The oxygen isotopic composition of soil carbonates has been used as a proxy for altitude and to measure the timing of uplift. Poulsen et al. (p. 490, published online 1 April) applied a global atmospheric general circulation model to show that the oxygen isotopic composition changes seen in carbonates formed in the late Miocene were driven more by changes in the amount of precipitation than by the altitude at which the precipitation forms. Consequently, it seems that oxygen isotopes are not a reliable paleoaltimeter, and Andean uplift may not have been as precipitate as thought.


A decrease in the ratio of 18O to 16O18O) of sedimentary carbonate from the Bolivian Altiplano has been interpreted to indicate rapid surface uplift of the late Miocene Andean plateau (AP). Here we report on paleoclimate simulations of Andean surface uplift with an atmospheric general circulation model (GCM) that tracks oxygen isotopes in vapor. The GCM predicts changes in atmospheric circulation and rainfall that influence AP isotopic source and amount effects. On eastern AP slopes, summer convective precipitation increases by up to 6 millimeters per day (>500%) for plateau elevations that are greater than about 2000 meters. High precipitation rates enhance the isotope amount effect, leading to a decrease in precipitation δ18O at high elevations and an increase in δ18O lapse rate. Our results indicate that late Miocene δ18O depletion reflects initiation and intensification of convective rainfall.

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