Middle Miocene closure of the Central American Seaway

Monday, 15 December 2014
Camilo Montes, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia and Agustin Cardona, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Facultad de Minas, Medellín, Colombia
The final closure of the Panama Isthmus and permanent separation of Caribbean and Pacific waters is thought to have modified their salinity, faunistic assemblages, and ultimately, ocean circulation patterns and global climate. The Great American Biotic Interchange (GABI) is thought to have been the result of Plio-Pleistocene closure of the Isthmus that allowed land animals to massively cross the Isthmus. Similarly, the separation of Caribbean and Pacific waters by a rising Isthmus is thougth to be a prime example of vicariance. The role of Isthmus closure on global changes, however, remains controversial due in part to the difficulty of establishing a precise chronology of seaway closure. While timing of glaciation is well established, new data on the chronology of Isthmus emergence suggests that the process of closure is more complex, long, and old than previously thought. We sampled fluvial and shallow marine strata in northwesternmost South America to recover zircon grains for provenance analyses in the immediate vicinity of the docking site. Because the ages of magmatic provinces in northwestern South America and the Panama Isthmus are mutually exclusive, detrital zircon analyses provides a tool to evaluate land connections. We found that an uniquely Panamanian, 40-45 Ma (early Lutetian) detrital zircon fingerprint is abundant in middle Miocene strata, but absent in underlying lower Miocene and Oligocene strata of the northern Andes. This fingerprint represents the beginning of fluvial detrital exchange between the Panama arc and South America, and therefore marks the time of docking and the end of deep-water, and probably shallow-water connections by middle Miocene times.