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The Sierras Pampeanas in the west-central part of Argentina are a modern analog for Laramide uplifts in the western United States. In this region, the Nazca plate is subducting beneath South America almost horizontally at about ~100 km depth before descending into the mantle. The flat-slab geometry correlates with the inland prolongation of the subducted oceanic Juan Fernández Ridge. This region of Argentina is characterized by the termination of the volcanic arc and uplift of the active basement-cored Sierras Pampeanas. The upper plate shows marked differences in seismic properties that are interpreted as variations in crustal composition in agreement with the presence of several Neoproterozoic to Paleozoic accreted terranes. In this paper, we combine the results from the CHile-ARgentina Geophysical Experiment (CHARGE) and the CHile-ARgentina Seismology Measurement Experiment (CHARSME) passive broadband arrays to better characterize the flat-slab subduction and the lithospheric structure. Stress tensor orientations indicate that the horizontal slab is in extension, whereas the upper plate backarc crust is under compression.

The Cuyania terrane crust exhibits high P-wave seismic velocities (Vp ~6.4 km/s), high P- to S-wave seismic velocity ratios (Vp/Vs = 1.80–1.85), and 55–60 km crustal thickness. In addition, the Cuyania terrane has a high-density and high-seismic-velocity lower crust. In contrast, the Pampia terrane crust has a lower Vp value of 6.0 km/s, a lower Vp/Vs ratio of 1.73, and a thinner crust of ~35 km thickness. We integrate seismic and gravity studies to evaluate crustal models that can explain the unusually low elevations of the western Sierras Pampeanas.

Flat-slab subduction models based on CHARGE and CHARSME seismic data and gravity observations show a good correlation with the predicted Juan Fernández Ridge path beneath South America, the deep Moho depths in the Andean backarc, and the high-density and high-seismic-velocity lower crust of the Cuyania terrane. The Cuyania terrane is also the region characterized by more frequent and larger-magnitude crustal earthquakes.

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