TU Freiberg: Geophysical Investigation of Clay Pans in the Atacama Desert

Group in the Atacama Desert
A nine-person team of scientists from the University of Cologne and the Institute of Geophysics and Geoinformatics at TU Bergakademie Freiberg returned from a surveying program in Chile at the end of January.

The survey lasted several weeks, during which geophysical examinations were carried out on three clay pans in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. The Atacama Desert extends along the Pacific coast of South America over a length of approx. 1,200 kilometers, and is one of the driest deserts on earth.

The measurements were carried out as part of a subproject of the Collaborative Research Centre 1211 "Earth – Evolution at the Dry Limit", which is coordinated by the University of Cologne. "The aim of the geophysical surveys is the high-resolution determination of the 3D structure of the sediment filling within the clay pans, in order to be able to correlate this with the results of drilling operations from the previous year in the centre of the same pans," said Dr. Volker Wennrich of the University of Cologne.

For this purpose, electromagnetic measurements were carried out in each of the three clay pans by scientists from the Institute of Geophysics and Meteorology at the University of Cologne, along with seismic measurements by scientists from the Institute of Geophysics and Geoinformatics at TU Bergakademie Freiberg. The measurements will now be jointly evaluated and interpreted to provide an insight into the climate history of a region that has among the lowest levels of precipitation in the world.

"The logistical challenges of such a survey are extreme, the remoteness of the areas surveyed requires very good preparation...and of course a bit of luck," said Prof. Stefan Buske from the Institute of Geophysics and Geoinformatics, who accompanied the measurements on site together with three students from the Bergakademie. "The highly topical research in this field combined with the opportunity to train students on site for measurements under extreme conditions is what makes this project so attractive."

The data obtained will be integrated directly into the students' courses as part of their qualification work as well as by the lecturers at the Institute of Geophysics and Geoinformatics, which will help to ensure interesting and relevant research and teaching.

Contact person: Prof. Stefan Buske, Phone +49 3731 39 2728

Desert Picture
Desert Picture