A late glacial-holocene tephrochronology for glacial lakes in southern Ecuador

Donald T. Rodbell, Stefan Bagnato, Jeffrey C. Nebolini, Geoffrey O. Seltzer, Mark B. Abbott

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42 Scopus citations


Despite the presence of numerous active volcanoes in the northern half of Ecuador, few, if any, distal tephras have been previously recognized in the southern one third of the country. In this article, we document the presence of thin (0.1-1.0-cm-thick) distal tephras comprising glass and/or phenocrysts of hornblende and feldspar in sediment cores from five glacial lakes and one bog in Las Cajas National Park (2°40'-3°00'S, 79°00'-79°25'W). The lake cores contain from 5 to 7 tephras, and each has a diagnostic major element geochemistry as determined from electron microprobe analysis of ∼710 glass shards and ∼440 phenocrysts of feldspar and hornblende. The loss of sodium with exposure to the electron microbeam causes a 10 ± 7 wt.% (±1σ) reduction in Na content, which we empirically determined and corrected for before correlating tephras among the sediment cores. We use a similarity coefficient to correlate among the sediment cores; pair-wise comparison of all tephras generally yields an unambiguous correlation among the cores. Six tephras can be traced among all or most of the cores, and several tephras are present in only one or two of the cores. Twenty-six accelerator mass spectrometry 14C dates on macrofossils preserved in the sediment cores provide the basis for establishing a regional tephrochronology. The widespread tephras were deposited ∼9900, 8800, 7300, 5300, 2500, and 2200 cal yr B.P. The oldest tephras were deposited ∼15, 500 and 15, 100 cal yr B.P., but these are not found in all cores. Two of the tephras appear correlative with volcaniclastic strata on the flanks of Volcán Cotopaxi and one tephra may correlate with strata on the flanks of Volcán Ninahuilca; both volcanoes are in central Ecuador. The absence of tephras in sediment cores correlative with the numerous eruptions of active volcanoes of the past two millennia implies that the earlier eruptions, which did deposit tephras in the lakes, must have been either especially voluminous, or southerly winds must have prevailed at the time of the eruption, or both.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-354
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002

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  • Ecuador
  • Glacial lakes
  • South America
  • Tephrochronology

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