How did the ancient lake Tauca affect the Andean climate?

Analyzing lakes that no longer exist requires serious scientific creativity.
By Brooks Hays  |  Feb. 8, 2016 at 4:20 PM
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SUCRE, Bolivia, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Some 16,000 years ago, a giant lake called Tauca stretched across the foothills of the Andes. It covered the Bolivian Plateau, encompassing nearly 5,000 square miles.

But 2,000 years after its climax, some 14,000 years ago, the lake disappeared. It left behind the world's largest salt crust, but a climatic legacy poorly understood by scientists.

New research has allowed scientists to estimate the massive lake's climatic influence on the region.

By analyzing the levels of oxygen isotopes found in diatom fossils, a type of micro-algae, researchers in France were able to reconstruct the biochemical conditions of the ancient lake. Scientists used the data to accurately estimate humidity and temperature conditions in the region.

Previous research has shown ice cores taken from the Andean summits near the footprint of Tauca are distinct from other ice samples collected in the Andes. The new research confirms that the ancient lake likely had a significant regional effect on precipitation, temperature and other climatic factors.

"This finding suggests that in very specific cases like this, with the presence of a nearby lake, paleo-climatic records such as measuring precipitation from ice cores may be skewed by the local hydrological cycle, and should be interpreted with such an influence in mind," researchers explained in a press release.

The new findings were published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

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