Oligocene to Pleistocene Lithostratigraphy of the Calama Basin, northern Chile

G. May, Adrian John Hartley, G. Chong, F. Stuart, P. Turner, S. Kape

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


New Ar-40/Ar-39 radiometric, sedimentological and structural data from post-Paleocene sedimentary strata in the Calama Basin, northern Chile suggest that the established lithostratigraphy of the basin-fill requires revision. A new lithostratigraphic scheme a for the Eocene-Pleistocene stratigraphy of the Callama Basin is proposed here.. The key features of this scheme are that the existing Calama Formation is retained although the age of the formation is redefined as (?Lower) Eocene to (?)Lower Miocene. The El Loa Formation is elevated to group status and redefined as Lover Miocene to Upper Pliocene in age. The El Loa Group includes four newly defined formations: the Jalquinche, Opache, Lasana and Chiquinaputo formations. The existing definition of the uppermost unit within the Calama Basin, the Upper Pliocene to Pleistocene Chiu-Chiu Formation, is retained. The tectono-sedimentary evotution of the Calama Basin-fill reveals three distinct unconformity-bounded phases of sedimentation: Eocene-Oligocene, early Miocene to late mid-Miocene and late Miocene to late Pliocene. Sedimentation commenced in the Eocene with deposition of alluvial braid plain deposits (Calama Formation). This style of sedimentation occurred across northern Chile throughout the Oligocene following the Incaic Orogeny. From 22 Ma to 10 Ma ephemeral fluvial sediments were developed along the Calama Basin flanks (Lasana Formation), playa sandflat and mudflat deposits (Jalquinche Formation) in the basin centre. Equivalently-aged sediments in both the Salar de Atacama and Pampa del Tamarugal basins also indicate deposition in endorheic basins. Late Miocene sedimentation occurred diachronously across the north Chilean forearc. The Pampa del Tama/ugal and Calama Basin areas were linked around 6 Ma following tectonic activity. Regional palustrine carbonate sedimentation occurred in the Calama Basin Centre (Opache Formation) with fluvial sedimentation along the eastern basin margin (Chiquinaputo Formation). The change in depositional style is attributed to increased rainfall in drainage basins. At about 3 Ma the Calama Basin was subject to gentle folding, followed by entrenchment of the Rio Loa and Rio San Salvador through Miocene to Pliocene strata to reach a new base-level caused by breaching of the Coastal Cordillera by the Rio Loa to reach the Pacific. Localised diatomite and evaporite (anhydrite) deposition took place in depressions created by either folding of older strata or geomorphic features (Chiu-Chiu Formation). Up to 5 unconformities are present in the Calama Basin-fill and occur across either the whole of the basin or localised areas of the basin. They are not present in adjacent basins which suggests they were generated by movement on the Precordilleran/West Fissure Fault Systems. Facies analysis of the Eocene to Pleistocene succession suggests that sedimentation took place under an arid/semiarid climate throughout this time period. Occasional fluctuations in climate suggesting increased runoff are indicated by the development of diatomites together with lacustrine and palustrine limestones. However, it is unlikely that the climate was never more humid than semi-arid. Similar facies developments in the Pampa del Tamarugal and Salar de Atacama basins during the Oligocene to Pleistocene suggest that climate changes affected the whole of the forearc and were not restricted to individual basins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-60
Number of pages27
JournalRevista Geológica de Chile
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Northern Chile
  • Calama Basin
  • stratigraphy
  • Ar-40/Ar dating
  • cenozoic
  • AR-40/AR-39
  • AGES


Dive into the research topics of 'Oligocene to Pleistocene Lithostratigraphy of the Calama Basin, northern Chile'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this