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Integrated magmatic, structural, and geophysical data provide a basis for modeling the Neogene lithospheric evolution of the high Central Andean Puna-Altiplano Plateau. Reconstruction of three transects south of the Bolivian orocline in the Altiplano and Puna Plateau shows processes in common, including subduction characterized by relatively shallow and changing slab dips, crustal shortening, delamination of thickened lower crust and lithosphere, crustal melting, eruption of giant ignimbrites, and deep crustal flow. Temporal similarities in events in the three transects can be correlated with changes in the rate of westward drift of South America and slab rollback. Temporal differences between the three transects can be attributed to variations in Nazca plate geometry in response to southward subduction of the aseismic Juan Fernandez Ridge. Subduction of the north-south arm of the ridge can explain an Oligocene flat slab under the Altiplano, and subduction of a northeast arm of the ridge can explain a long period of relatively shallow subduction characterized by local steepening and shallowing. Major episodes of ignimbrite eruption and delamination have occurred over steepening subduction zones as the ridge has passed to the south. Late Miocene to Holocene delamination of dense lithosphere is corroborated by published seismic images.

The southern Altiplano transect (17°S–21°S) is notable for high, structurally complex Western and Eastern Cordilleras flanking the Altiplano Basin, the eastern border of which is marked by late Miocene ignimbrites. The broad Subandean fold-and-thrust belt lies to the east. The Neogene evolution can be modeled by steepening of a shallowly subducting plate, leading to mantle and crustal melting that produced widespread volcanism including large ignimbrites. Major uplift of the plateau at 10–6.7 Ma was dominantly a response to crustal thickening related to Subandean shortening and peak lower-crustal flow into the Altiplano from the bordering cordilleras as the ignimbrites erupted, and partly a response to delamination along the eastern Altiplano border. A smaller ignimbrite volume than in the northern Puna suggests the Altiplano lithosphere never reached as high a degree of melting as to the south. An Oligocene flat-slab stage can explain extensive Oligocene deformation of the high plateau region.

The northern Puna transect at ~21°S–24°S is notable for voluminous ignimbrites (>8000 km3) and a narrower Subandean fold-and-thrust belt that gives way southward to a thick-skinned thrust belt. The evolution can be modeled by an early Miocene amagmatic flat slab that underwent steepening after 16 Ma, which led to mantle melting that culminated in widespread ignimbrite eruptions beginning at 10 Ma, peaking in the backarc at ca. 8.5–6 Ma, restricted to the near arc by 4.5 Ma, and ending by 3 Ma. The formation of eclogitic residual crust caused periodic lower-crustal and lithospheric mantle delamination. Late Miocene uplift was largely due to crustal thickening in response to crustal shortening, magmatic addition, and delamination. Crustal flow played only a minor role. The high degree of mantle and crustal melting can be explained as a response to steepening of the early Miocene flat slab.

The southern Puna transect at ~24°S–~28°S is notable for eastward frontal arc migration at 8–3 Ma, intraplateau basins bounded by high ranges, long-lived Miocene stratovolcanic-dome complexes, voluminous 6–2 Ma ignimbrites, 7–0 Ma backarc mafic flows, and the latest Miocene uplift of the reverse-faulted Sierras Pampeanas ranges to the east. Its evolution can be modeled by a moderately shallow slab producing widespread volcanism with subsequent steepening by 6 Ma, leading to delamination of dense lithosphere culminating in the eruption of the voluminous Cerro Galan ignimbrite at 2 Ma.

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