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Project 7 (phase I):

BOFEDAL: Biota’s forcing of earth surface dynamics ascertained on land and sea


Investigator Names and Contact Info:

  • Bertil Mächtle (Geomorphology/Geochemistry). Institute of Geography, Heidelberg University, Germany
  • Karsten Schittek (Paleoecology/Vegetation Geography). Department of Geography and Geographical Education, University of Cologne, Germany
  • Andreas Lücke (to be announced). Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Agrosphere: IBG-3, Research Center Jülich
  • Frank Lamy (to be announced). Division Geosciences - Marine Geology and Paleontology, Alfred Wegener Institute


Chilean Collaborators Involved:

  • Antonio Maldonado. Universidad La Serena & Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Áridas (CEAZA), Chile



Holocene palaeoclimate reconstruction of Northern Chile based on peatland/wetland sedimentary geoarchives.



  • Sebastian Kock. Universität Heidelberg, Institute of Geography, Germany

Supervisor: Interim Prof. Bertil Mächtle, Co-supervisor: Dr. Karsten Schittek


Stable isotope analysis (δ13C and δ18O) in Patosia peat cellulose from the Rio Claro Peatland (Chile, 30°S) and its potential for paleoenvironmental implications in the Andes.



  • Seguin, Joana. Universität Heidelberg, Institute of Geography, Germany

Supervisor: Interim Prof. Bertil Mächtle


(preliminary title: Polen analysis in  Valle del Elqui, Chile.)



  • Joanna Ramm. University of Heidelberg, Germany

Supervisor: to be announced



Stabile Wasserstoffisotopie der Methoxyl–Gruppen des Lignins und Pektins als Paläoklima-Proxy gemessen an einem Torfkern aus Los Pelambres (Chile).



  • Benjamin Blüthner. University of Heidelberg, Germany

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Keppler


Project Summary:

One of the main goals of EarthShape is the quantification of biotic processes, which modify the earth shape in the critical zone. Besides monitoring of modern processes and its modelling, the low intensity of some biotic processes in the Atacama Desert needs a period of consideration of at least tens to thousands of years to be measurable. Biotic processes in the (recently hyper-)arid Atacama desert are most prominently controlled by the availability of water. As precipitation was highly variable at these timescales, the modification and volatility of process intensities on the scale of decades to millennia, due to climatic changes, has to be considered in quantitative approaches. Paleoclimatic information on these timescales is strongly recommended. As geoarchives (henceforth referred to as “archives”) covering the Holocene are the best detailed and preserved, we focus on this period. Paleoclimatic archives as peat and mineral sediments offer an insight to past environments based on climatic proxies, e.g. micro-/macrofossils, sediments and its geochemistry. However, highly variable arid land bio-geodynamics prevent the formation of continuous archives, which the EarthShape approach calls for! The priority program’s primary focus areas located in the hyper-arid costal desert of Chile only offer discontinuous records of paleoclimate. Existing gaps in paleoclimatic records need framing and completion by the nearest continuous information, which has to be made available by studying the regional paleoclimatic context. In our project, we aim to study the activity of biota in the coastal area during the mid- to late Holocene (primary focus area Pan de Azúcar, 26° S). Despite the pronounced aridity of the coastal strip, a number of saline and freshwater springs exist, mainly fed by fog and dewfall, in the so called “Camanchaca zone”. At these hotspots of humidity, archives were formed under the conditions of locally standing water and gleyic soils. Due to the distorting effects of past climatic fluctuations, the paleoclimatic records at these areas are expected to be discontinuous and lack resolution. Hence, the acquisition of undistorted, continuous information will be done by the study of two framing master records: #1: the study of a high Andean peatland (“bofedal”) and adjacent lake and #2: the study of a marine sediment core (GeoB 7139-2, 30° S off Chile). By this means, we want to fill the unavoidable gaps in coastal sedimentary archives with the help of continuous high-resolution paleoclimatic proxy data to get the best possible assessment of changes in biota-controlled processes and their intensity in north central Chile, where detailed Holocene paleoclimatic information is missing. In summary, this interdisciplinary project between geoecology, geography/geomorphology and marine geosciences is by itself a cutting-edge integrative collaboration, bringing together terrestrial and marine expertise under the umbrella of EarthShape. Furthermore, immediate linkages to other initiatives are obvious, particularly regarding vegetation dynamics, soil formation, biochemical weathering and stabilization of landscapes most notably in the primary focus area Pan de Azúcar. EarthShape-BOFEDAL is a contribution to climate change research. Combining marine with terrestrial records will reveal more about the changes on vegetation and geomorphodynamics, and enables us to better understand the environmental consequences of climatic variability.