Lithium-rich brine within the sub-surface of the Salar del Hombre Muerto (SHM) salt pan in the Andes of northwestern Argentina has a chemical and isotopic composition which is consistent with Li derived from several sources: the modern halite saturated lagoon, Li-rich salts and brines formed recently, and dissolution of halite which precipitated from ancient saline lakes. SHM lies in the closed basin that includes part of the massive Cerro Galán caldera which is drained by the Río los Patos, which is responsible for 90% of surface runoff into the salar. The low Li isotope composition, +3.4‰, of this river is consistent with significant contributions of geothermal spring water. As water drains through the volcaniclastic deposits which cover a large proportion of the basin, Li removal, as indicated by decreasing Li/Na, occurs but without significant isotope fractionation. This indicates a mechanism of surface sorption onto smectite or ferrihydrite rather than Li incorporation into octahedral structural sites of clays. These observations suggest that conditions in this high altitude desert have limited the dilution of hydrothermal spring water as well as the formation of clay minerals, which jointly have allowed the Li resource to accumulate rapidly. Changes in climate on a multi-millennial time scale, specifically in the hydrologic budget, have resulted in solute accumulation rates that have been variable through time, and decoupled Li and Na fluxes. Inflow to the salar under modern conditions has high Li/Na (7.9×10-3 by wt) with δ7Li indistinguishable from basement rocks (-0.3‰ to +6.4‰), while under pluvial climate conditions the Li/Na of the saline lake was 40 times lower than the modern lagoon (0.1-0.3×10-3 compared to 10.6-13.4×10-3) with slightly higher δ7Li, +6.9‰ to +12.3‰, reflecting the uptake of 6Li into secondary minerals which formed under a wetter climate.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- Geochemistry and Petrology