Helmholtz Centre Potsdam
GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Abstract (EDOC: 9168)
The Andes were formed by Cenozoic tectonic shortening of the South American plate margin overriding the subducting Nazca Plate. Using coupled, thermo-mechanical, numerical modeling of the dynamic interaction between subducting and overriding plates, we searched for factors controlling the intensity of the tectonic shortening. From our modeling, constrained by geological and geophysical observations, we infer that the most important factor was fast and accelerating (from 2 to 3 cm yr(hoch)-1) westward drift of the South American Plate, whereas possible changes in the convergence rate were not as important. Other important factors are the crustal structure of the overriding plate and the shear coupling at the plate interface. The model in which the South American Plate has a thick (40-45 km at 35 Ma) crust and relatively high friction coefficient (0.05) at the Nazca-South American plate interface generates more than 300 km of tectonic shortening over the past 35 million years and replicates well the crustal structure and evolution of the high Central Andes, However, modeling does not confirm that possible climate-controlled changes to the sedimentary trench-fill during the last 30 million years might have significantly influenced the upperplate shortening rate. The model with initially thinner (less than 40 km) continental crust and a lower friction coefficient (less than 0.015) results in less than 40 ikm of shortening in the South American Plate, replicating the situation in the Southern Andes. During upper-plate deformation, the processes that cause a reduction in lithospheric strength and an increase in interplate coupling are particularly important. The most significant of these processes appears to be: (1) delamination of the lower crust and mantle lithosphere, driven by gabbro-eclogite transformation in the thickening lower crust, and (2) mechanical failure of the foreland sediments. The modeling demonstrates that delaminating lithosphere interacts with subduction-zone corner flow, influencing both the rate of tectonic shortening and magmatic-arc productivity, and suggests an anti-correlation between these two parameters. Our model also predicts that the down-dip limit of the frictional coupling domain between the Nazca and South American Plates should be ~15-20 km deeper in the Southern Andes (south of 28° S) compared to the high Central Andes, which is consistent with GPS and seismological observations.
(2006): Mechanism of the Andean Orogeny: Insight from Numerical Modeling. - In: Oncken, O.; Chong, G.; Franz, G.; Giese, P.; Götze, H.-J.; Ramos, V. A.; Strecker, M. R.; Wigger, P. (Eds.), The Andes - Active Subduction Orogeny, Springer, 513-535.