Revisiting mountain-building in the Andes of Central Chile: constraints from structural geology and thermochronology.
Abstract:The Andes, one of the most significant reliefs on Earth, is the case example of a subduction-type mountain belt. In central Chile and western Argentina, the particular east-vergent structure of the Aconcagua fold-and-thrust belt (AFTB) is found atop a huge basement high with elevations > 4000 m, the Frontal Cordillera.
Classical conceptual models consider the Andes as an east-vergent orogen, opposite to the Nazca subduction, and describe the exhumation of the Frontal Cordillera as an eastward in-sequence event that occurred late in the andean deformation (by ~10My). An alternative model recently challenged this view by proposing that the Andes have mainly a primary westward vergence. Within this scheme, the exhumation of the Frontal Cordillera would have begun earlier, by ~25My, synchronous with formation of the AFTB on the western side of the basement high. Here we test these two models by revisiting structural cross-sections of the Andes at the latitude of Santiago de Chile and of the Aconcagua (~33°S). We provide thermochronological constraints on the timing of exhumation of the Frontal Cordillera by (U-Th)/He dating on apatites retrieved from paleozoic granitoids along a 2,3km high nearly vertical section in the core of the basement high. Preliminary results suggest that the Frontal Cordillera exhumation was not a late event and likely began around 25 Ma. Therefore it appears to be synchronous with deformation within the AFTB and the westernmost fold-and-thrust belt at this latitude. We discuss these results and their implications while building a crustal-scale cross section of the range at the latitude of Santiago de Chile.