PLoS ONE (Jan 2021)

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Rano Raraku crater lake basin: Geochemical characterization and implications for the Ahu-Moai Period.

  • E Argiriadis,
  • M Bortolini,
  • N M Kehrwald,
  • M Roman,
  • C Turetta,
  • S Hanif,
  • E O Erhenhi,
  • J M Ramirez Aliaga,
  • D B McWethy,
  • A E Myrbo,
  • A Pauchard,
  • C Barbante,
  • D Battistel

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 16, no. 10
p. e0254793


Read online

Rano Raraku, the crater lake constrained by basaltic tuff that served as the primary quarry used to construct the moai statues on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), has experienced fluctuations in lake level over the past centuries. As one of the only freshwater sources on the island, understanding the present and past geochemical characteristics of the lake water is critical to understand if the lake could have been a viable freshwater source for Rapa Nui. At the time of sampling in September 2017, the maximum lake depth was ~1 m. The lake level has substantially declined in the subsequent years, with the lake drying almost completely in January 2018. The lake is currently characterized by highly anoxic conditions, with a predominance of ammonium ions on nitrates, a high concentration of organic carbon in the water-sediment interface and reducing conditions of the lake, as evidenced by Mn/Fe and Cr/V ratios. Our estimates of past salinity inferred from the chloride mass balance indicates that it was unlikely that Rano Raraku provided a viable freshwater source for early Rapa Nui people. The installation of an outlet pipe around 1950 that was active until the late 1970s, as well as grazing of horses on the lake margins appear to have significantly impacted the geochemical conditions of Rano Raraku sediments and lake water in recent decades. Such impacts are distinct from natural environmental changes and highlight the need to consider the sensitivity of the lake geochemistry to human activities.