The mid-American channel connecting the primeval Atlantic and Pacific oceans was subjected to forces in Upper Jurassic time that folded the sea bed into a series of parallel ridges striking SE to NW. The westward and most tenuous of the ridges was ruptured by extrusive material that grew from the channel floor and emerged to form a chain of volcanic islands—the western archipelago. Erosion of the islands and deposition to the northeast provided the sediments of the Nicoya complex now exposed along the west coast of Costa Rica and Panamá.
Volcanic eruption and continuing erosion throughout the Cretaceous supplied sediment to the shallowing channel area. Deposition during this period was mainly from the archipelago, although some material was derived from the northern Nuclear Central American mass. By the end of Cretaceous most of the denuded islands had foundered and the western archipelago had disappeared.
Diastrophism accompanying the Laramide revolution rejuvenated and further upfolded one of the interior ridges—the “Guanarivas island.” Eastern Panama, belonging to the Choco borderland, which had been emergent throughout the Cretaceous, began to founder in lower Eocene and was submerged by the beginning of the middle Eocene.
Guanarivas island and the volcanic islands had disappeared by lower Oligocene time, which was an epoch of comparative quiescence. Renewed activity in the middle Oligocene resulted in the growth of the Talamanca ridge and the appearance of islands in southern Costa Rica and northeastern Panama.
Continued growth through early Miocene culminated in development of the West Talamanca fault and total emergence of the ridge by the end of the middle Miocene. The faulted upthrust block was tilted eastward, creating compressive forces that fractured the eastern front of the high area and initiated folding on the Atlantic foreland of southern Costa Rica and northeastern Panama. The Miocene diastrophism was accompanied by the growth of volcanoes on the ridge in Panamá.
Total emergence of a narrow strip of land bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Nicaraguan depression opening to the Caribbean, resulted in the first uninterrupted connection of South America with Nuclear Central America in Pliocene time.
By Quaternary time the Talamanca ridge had become stabilized and adjusted, the Nicaraguan depression was filled, leaving only Lakes Nicaragua and Managua and the San Juan River to mark its former course, and the orogen had assumed the shape we know today.
Figures & Tables
The first article in this book is the address that introduced the technical program of the 46th Annual Meeting of the AAPG. The organization and presentation of this symposium volume was developed in an orderly geographic continuity. Modern concepts of structural form and the sequence of tectonic events are carefully reported all along the mountainous western margins of the American continents. The relationship of this structural knowledge to the accumulation of oil and gas is constantly emphasized in the 26 papers contained herein.