The El Tatio geothermal field is located at an height of 4200–4300 m on the Cordillera de los Andes (Altiplano). Geysers, hot pools and mudpots in the geothermal field and local meteoric waters were sampled in April 2002 and analyzed for major and trace elements, δ2H, δ18O and 3H of water, δ34S and δ18O of dissolved sulfate, δ13C of dissolved total carbonate, and 87Sr/86Sr ratio of aqueous strontium. There are two different types of thermal springs throughout the field, that are chloride-rich water and sulfate-rich water. The chemical composition of chloride springs is controlled by magma degassing and by water-rock interaction processes. Sulfate springs are fed by shallow meteoric water heated by ascending gases. In keeping with the geodynamic setting and nature of the reservoir rocks, chloride water is rich in As, B, Cs, Li; on the other hand, sulfate water is enriched only in B relative to local meteoric water. Alternatively to a merely meteoric model, chloride waters can be interpreted as admixtures of meteoric and magmatic (circa andesitic) water, which moderately exchanges oxygen isotopes with rocks at a chemical Na/K temperature of about 270°C in the main reservoir, and then undergoes loss of vapor (and eventually mixing with shallow water) and related isotopic effects during ascent to the surface. These chloride waters do not present tritium and can be classified as submodern (pre-1952). A chloride content of 5,400 mg/l is estimated in the main reservoir, for which δ2H and δ18O values, respectively of –78‰ and –6.9‰, are calculated applying the multistage-steam separation isotopic effects between liquid and vapor. From these data, the meteoric recharge (Cl ≈ 0 mg/l) of the main reservoir should approach a composition of – 107‰ in δ2H and –14.6‰ in δ18O, when a magmatic water of δ2H = –20‰, δ18O = +10‰ and Cl = 17,500 mg/l is assumed. The 87Sr/86Sr ratios of the hot springs are quite uniform (0.70876 to 0.70896), with values within the range observed for dacites of the Andean central volcanic zone. A water δ18O-87Sr/86Sr model was developed for the main geothermal reservoir, by which a meteoric-magmatic composition of the fluids is not excluded. The uniform δ34S(SO42–) values of +1.4 to +2.6‰ in the chloride waters agree with a major deep-seated source for sulfur, possibly via hydrolysis in the geothermal reservoir of sulfur dioxide provided by magma degassing, followed by isotopic exchange between sulfate and sulfide in the main reservoir. This interpretation is supported by the largely negative δ34S(SO42–) value in steam-heated water sulfate (–9.8‰) and mass-balance calculation, which exclude leaching at depth of igneous iron-sulfides with δ34S near zero per mill. All the δ13C values of total carbonate in the chloride waters are negative, with variable values from –9.2 to –20.1‰, pointing to an important proportion of biogenic carbon in the fluids. The interpretation of these data is problematic, and a number of alternative explanations are reported in the text.
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