In Peru, the western edge of the 4.5 km high Western Cordillera is cut by a >3 km deep canyon. To understand incision by the Cotahuasi–Ocoña River and the regional uplift history of this orogenic plateau capped by volcanic rocks, 26 crystalline rock samples were collected for low-temperature thermochronology from vertical profiles parallel and perpendicular to the canyon. Rock cooling histories confirm that most plateau denudation had occurred prior to 24 Ma but plateau incision peaked after c. 14–9 Ma in response to rapid surface uplift. The abrupt occurrence of a rock heating event is also detected during middle Miocene time. This was either a response to the emplacement of low-conductivity, regionally extensive ignimbritic caprock or a response to crustal-scale fluid circulation caused by wet melting of the overriding plate when magmatism resumed c. 24 Ma. The potential for thermochronology to provide information on past geothermal gradients is discussed, showing how it can be used as a proxy for understanding change in subducting slab dynamics, with oscillations in subduction angle having perhaps been the main on–off switch for magmatism in this Cordilleran setting.
Fission-track and apatite (U–Th)/He results and apatite chemistry indicators are available at http://www/geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18405.