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Evidence for a Miocene period of transient shallow subduction under the Neuquén Basin in the Andean backarc, and an intermittent Upper Cretaceous to Holocene frontal arc with a relatively stable magma source and arc-to-trench geometry comes from new 40Ar/39Ar, major- and trace-element, and Sr, Pb, and Nd isotopic data on magmatic rocks from a transect at ∼36°–38°S. Older frontal arc magmas include early Paleogene volcanic rocks erupted after a strong Upper Cretaceous contractional deformation and mid-Eocene lavas erupted from arc centers displaced slightly to the east. Following a gap of some 15 m.y., ca. 26–20 Ma mafic to acidic arc-like magmas erupted in the extensional Cura Mallín intra-arc basin, and alkali olivine basalts with intraplate signatures erupted across the backarc. A major change followed as ca. 20–15 Ma basaltic andesite–dacitic magmas with weak arc signatures and 11.7 Ma Cerro Negro andesites with stronger arc signatures erupted in the near to middle backarc. They were followed by ca. 7.2–4.8 Ma high-K basaltic to dacitic hornblende-bearing magmas with arc-like high field strength element depletion that erupted in the Sierra de Chachahuén, some 500 km east of the trench. The chemistry of these Miocene rocks along with the regional deformational pattern support a transient period of shallow subduction that began at ca. 20 Ma and climaxed near 5 Ma. The subsequent widespread eruption of Pliocene to Pleistocene alkaline magmas with an intraplate chemistry in the Payenia large igneous province signaled a thickening mantle wedge above a steepening subduction zone. A pattern of decreasingly arc-like Pliocene to Holocene backarc lavas in the Tromen region culminated with the eruption of a 0.175 ± 0.025 Ma mafic andesite. The northwest-trending Cortaderas lineament, which generally marks the southern limit of Neogene backarc magmatism, is considered to mark the southern boundary of the transient shallow subduction zone.

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