Abstract

The Andean orogeny in the Patagonian Cordillera of southern South America reflects the consequences of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic subduction of an oceanic plate beneath the South American continental margin. The geological evolution of the region has been influenced by the Eocene collision and subduction of the Farallon–Aluk Ridge and the Miocene–Recent subduction of the Chile Ridge. Another aspect of plate interaction during this period was two intervals of rapid plate convergence, one at 50–42 Ma, and the other at 25–10 Ma, between the South American and the oceanic plates. It has been proposed that the collision of the Chile Ridge with the trench was responsible for the development, at least in part, of the Patagonian fold and thrust belt. This belt extends for more than 1000 km along the eastern foothills of the southern Andes between 46° and 54° S along the southwestern rim of the Austral Basin. The interpretation of a link between subduction of the ridge and formation of the fold and thrust belt is based on assumed time coincidences between contractional tectonism and the collision of ridge segments during Middle and Late Miocene times. The main Tertiary contractional events in the Patagonian fold and thrust belt took place during latest Cretaceous–Palaeocene–Eocene and during Miocene times. Although the timing of deformation is still poorly constrained, the evidence currently available suggests that there is little or no relationship between the timing of the fold and thrust belt and the collision of ridge segments. Most if not all of the contractional tectonism pre-dated the latest episodes of ridge collision. Collision of a ridge crest with the continental margin has been active for the past 14 to 15 million years. Contrary to the suggestion of a relationship between ridge subduction and compression, the main result of this collision has been fast uplift and extensional tectonism. The initiation of the Patagonian fold and thrust belt in latest Cretaceous or early Tertiary times coincided with a fundamental change in the tectonic evolution of the Austral Basin. Throughout the Cretaceous most of this basin subsided as a broad backarc continental shelf. Only in latest Cretaceous times, and coinciding with the initiation of the fold and thrust belt, the basin underwent a transition to a retro-arc foreland basin. This change to an asymmetrically subsiding foreland basin, with an associated foreland fold and thrust belt, was related to uplift of the Andean orogenic belt in the west.

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