|Catchment area||303 km2 (117 sq mi)|
|Surface area||13.4 km2 (5.2 sq mi)|
|Surface elevation||4,140 m (13,580 ft)|
Miscanti Lake (Spanish: Laguna Miscanti) is a brackish water lake located in the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region, in northern Chile. Miñiques volcano and Cerro Miscanti tower over this lake. This heart-shaped lake has a deep blue color. The western shoreline of the lake is separated by less than 1 km from the drainage divide between the lake and the Salar de Atacama basins. Laguna Miscanti basin also has a common boundary with Salar de Talar basin.
A lava flow from an eruption of Miñiques separated Miscanti Lake from Miñiques Lake.
The lake is part of one of the seven sectors of Los Flamencos National Reserve.
Geography and geology
It is a maximally 10 metres (33 ft) deep lake with clear brackish water which covers a surface area of 13.5 square kilometres (5.2 sq mi); the lake has the shape of an arrowhead with a peninsula jutting from the northern shore. The lake has a flat lakefloor that is subdivided into two basins by a lava flow. In the Atacama Altiplano, Laguna Miscanti is among the biggest waterbodies. The mountains Cerro Miscanti (5,622 metres (18,445 ft)) and Cerro Miniques (5,910 metres (19,390 ft)) lie northeast and south of the lake, respectively.
1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) south of the lake lies another waterbody, Laguna Miniques. In the past, the two lakes were connected, producing a large waterbody which has left beach terraces in the landscape and whose water levels were about 20 metres (66 ft) higher than today. The separation of the lakes probably occurred during the Pleistocene, when a lava flow erupted from Cerro Miniques split the lake basin in two. A number of creeks enter into Laguna Miscanti from the north, east and south (Quebrada de Chaquisoqui), and two springs can be found on its northern shores.
Miscanti and Miniques occupy fault-bound basins, which are controlled by the Quebrada Nacimiento fault and which developed during the Pliocene and Pleistocene; Laguna Lejia also developed along this fault; the fault segment there is also known as Miscanti-Callejon de Varela fault. The fault is also known as the Miscanti Fault and is part of a detachment fault system east of the Salar de Atacama, which separates the Western Cordillera from the Cordillera Domeyko. This fault extends from the Purico complex, Llano de Chajnantor to Cerro Miniques and has formed a ridge, which has dammed lava flows from Cerro Miscanti and Cerro Miniques. Volcanoes including Lascar is constructed on this fault, and the Cerros Saltar and Corona north and south of Lascar are lined up along the fault.
The catchment of the lake consists mainly of volcanic and sedimentary rocks ranging from Miocene to Holocene age and covers a surface area of 320 square kilometres (120 sq mi), with Quaternary volcanoes that reach elevations of 5,000–6,000 metres (16,000–20,000 ft). The Cordon de Puntas Negras is the principal source of water. Water reaches Laguna Miscanti principally as groundwater, which is directed there by the fault; this may explain why Laguna Miscanti is a permanent lake rather than a playa.
The lake has no surface outflow. Presently, water seeps to Miniques through a lava flow along the path of the Quebrada Nacimiento fault; during former lake highstands a combined lake overflowed into the Pampa Varela basin south-southwest of Miniques. The main removal mechanism of water from Laguna Miscanti however is evaporation. Some water is diverted from the catchment and forms a water supply to the town of Peine.
Presently, the regional climate is arid (average precipitation 200–250 millimetres per year (7.9–9.8 in/year)) and cold (average annual temperature 2 °C (36 °F)), leading to the development of ice on the lake surface during winter. The lake area is usually a little warmer than the surrounding region. The region lies between areas dominated by summer precipitation in the northeast and areas dominated by winter precipitation in the southwest.
In the late Pleistocene and early Holocene the climate was much wetter and lakes expanded, while the middle Holocene was dry as was the last glacial maximum. The late Pleistocene-early Holocene wet period was particularly noticeable in the Altiplano, where two separate phases of the Lake Tauca occurred. During the middle Holocene dry period, the lake may have dried up completely forming a bog. Climate variability influenced human settlement in the region during the Holocene, which took place mainly during wetter periods and became concentrated in several environmentally favourable spaces during dry periods. An archeological site called "Miscanti-1" is found on the southeastern lake shore.
Widgeonweed grows at the lakeshores. Charophytes, Chara and Myriophyllum are two further aquatic plants that have been identified in the lake. During its highstands, algal bioherms and stromatolithes developed in the water. Diatoms and ostracodes have been identified in the lake sediments, and amphipods have been found in the lake waters.
Meadows consisting of Fabiana, Festuca and Stipa chrysophylla grow around the lake, with sparser vegetation found on the upland, consisting of Baccharis species also known as "tolar" and ichu. Fauna that inhabits the area includes birds like flamingos, horned coot, rhea and speckled teal, and mammals like the vicuña. Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miniques are part of the third sector of the Los Flamencos National Reserve.
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