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No. 29: Sep-Oct 1993

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Nitrate Deposits Defy Rational Explanation

"The nitrate deposits in the extremely arid Atacama Desert of northern Chile are among the most unusual of all mineral deposits. In fact, they are so extraordinary that, were it not for their existence, geologists could easily conclude that such deposits could not form in nature. The nitrate deposits consist of water-soluble saline minerals that occur as cement in unconsolidated surficial material -- alluvial fill in valleys, loose rocky debris on hillsides, and windblown silt and sand -- and as impregnations and veins in porous and fractured bedrock. They are found chiefly along the eastern side of the Coastal Range, but also within the Coastal Range, in the Central Valley to the East, and along the lower Andean front. Features of the deposits that appear to defy rational explanation are their restricted distribution in a desert characterized throughout by saline soil and salt-encrusted playas; the wide variety of topography where they occur; the abundance of nitrate minerals, which are scarce in other saline complexes; and the presence of other, less abundant minerals containing the ions of perchlorate, iodate, chromate, and dichromate which do not exist in any other saline complexes. Iodate,, chromate, and dichromate are known to form under such conditions, but no chemical process acting at temperatures and pressures found at the earth's surface is known to produce perchlorate."

(Ericksen, George E.; "The Chilean Nitrate Deposits," American Scientist, 71: 366, 1983.)

Reference. For more on these nitrate deposits and related phenomena, see ESP3 in our Catalog: Neglected Geologi cal Anomalies. Ordering information here.

From Science Frontiers #29, SEP-OCT 1983. 1983-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987