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Large-scale Cenozoic Wind Erosion in the Puna Plateau: The Salina del Fraile Depression
  • Mitchell McMillan,
  • Lindsay M Schoenbohm
Mitchell McMillan
University of Toronto, University of Toronto

Corresponding Author:mitchell.mcmillan@mail.utoronto.ca

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Lindsay M Schoenbohm
University of Toronto, University of Toronto
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Wind erosion is integral to the evolution of arid landscapes on Earth and Mars, but the nature of long-term wind erosion of bedrock is poorly understood. Here we describe the Salina del Fraile (SdF) depression in the Puna Plateau of the Central Andes, NW Argentina, as a landform excavated by wind over several million years. New structural cross-sections and a compilation of chronostratigraphic ages rule out the hypothesis that the depression was created by transtensional tectonics. Dated remnant lacustrine and alluvial deposits in the floor of the depression constrain the rate and timing of erosion. Late Oligocene–Miocene compressional folding uplifted friable strata that were preferentially eroded, resulting in the high-relief (900 m) depression. Up to 1.95 km and an average of 1.05 km of strata were eroded during the last 8.2 to 17 Ma, at rates of 0.06 to 0.23 mm/yr. These rates are similar to long-term average wind erosion rates reported in other regions. Coarse-grained eolian megaripples, yardangs, and elongated ridges indicate ongoing eolian abrasion and deflation, aided by salt weathering, of the floor of the depression. Megaripple migration across stony lag surfaces exposes fresh bedrock to continued erosion. The SdF also contains kilometerscale mesas and ridges that we interpret as erosional remnants. These landforms are similar to megayardangs and erosional topography identified on the lower flanks of Mount Sharp, Gale crater, Mars. In such hyperarid landscapes characterized by lithologic heterogeneities, high relief landforms can be generated and sustained by wind erosion, without significant fluvial or glacial incision.
Sep 2020Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface volume 125 issue 9. 10.1029/2020JF005682