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ABSTRACT

Calcite pisoliths, with diameters ranging from 1 to 200 mm, are forming now on the surface of a playa (salar) in the Andean Altiplano (4500 m above MSL) of Bolivia. They are associated with active or recently active hot springs (20-75°C) which flow onto the playa surface. Encrustations of pieces of an older caliche-type crust, of pisoliths, of indurated mud and of older concretions are also found as well as series of small (1-3 cm high) sinter terraces (rimstone dams). Arborescent concretions and overgrowths are common and they are reminiscent of drip-stone textures. Water analyses demonstrate that calcite supersaturation (about twenty times) occurs mainly through CO2 loss, with photosynthesis by algae and degassing the main removal mechanisms. The two available analyses indicate slight evaporation and a calcium loss between spring and pool of 2.3 mmol per litre of water. It is thought that the hot springs pick up much of their solute load from the playa sediments. The closest analogues to these deposits have been reported from caves (cave pearls and concretions). Although the depositional processes may be similar, the environment on an evaporitic playa surface is quite different. The geological implications for this newly observed pisolith environment may be considerable.