Abstract

During the Mesozoic evolution of the southernmost Andes, back-arc basin formation in an extensional setting was followed by foreland basin development in a compressional setting. A stratigraphic record of this tectonic transition is described from Jurassic and Cretaceous rock units exposed in the Patagonian fold-thrust belt at 51°S latitude. Initiation of an extensional deep-marine trough in Late Jurassic time is documented by interstratified rhyolites and marine mudstones in the Tobifera Formation. Development of the Early Cretaceous Rocas Verdes back-arc basin is recorded by Zapata Formation submarine-slope deposits, which draped the west-facing, passively subsiding cratonic margin of the basin. The onset of Andean compressional orogenesis and creation of the Magallanes foreland basin is marked by the influx of coarse-grained sandstone turbidites of the Albian-Cenomanian Punta Barrosa Formation. During Late Cretaceous time, the foreland basin configuration consisted of a narrow foredeep trough bounded by a gently sloping foreland ramp on the craton to the east. This geometry reflects greater flexural subsidence of the stretched and thermally weakened passive back-arc basin margin beneath the load of the obducted Rocas Verdes basin floor. Changes in depositional regime and sediment dispersal patterns in the latest Cretaceous, together with an eastward shift in the Magallanes basin depocenter, record cratonward migration of deformation in the Patagonian fold-thrust belt. Loading of the thicker, cratonic lithosphere caused subsidence of the foreland ramp to form a wide flexural basin.

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