Regional hydrogeochemical mapping in Central Chile: natural and anthropogenic sources of elements and compounds
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Geochemistry is a key tool in identifying sources of elements for both mineral exploration and environmental purposes. This study evaluates the first systematic regional hydrogeochemical survey for environmental assessments of the classic Andean copper mineral province and the Andina–Los Bronces mining district of Central Chile. One hundred and forty-five water samples were collected systematically in the Valparaíso and Metropolitana Regions of Central Chile, including the capital, Santiago. The concentrations of more than 70 elements and compounds were determined using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and ion chromatography (IC) along with the stable isotopes (δD, δ18O, δ34S, δ18OSO4, δ15N and δ18ONO3) and used to define the geochemical baselines in the area and distinguish between different sources. The geochemistry demonstrates the potential to distinguish between natural (bedrock, hydrothermal alteration and mineralization) and anthropogenic (agriculture, sewage and urban) sources of elements. The distribution patterns of many chemicals show a strong correlation with the presence of evaporitic components (Ca, SO42-, Sr, K, Rb, total dissolved solids (TDS)), hydrothermal alteration and sulphide mineralization (Cu, Zn, Ni, Cd, Co and REEs). High concentrations of nitrate, phosphate and alkalinity occur downstream of agricultural areas and reflect pollution from fertilizers. Overall, the catchment areas affected by mining activities are relatively small and highly localized compared to those affected by agriculture and urban centres.