A morphotectonic analysis of central patagonian cordillera: Negative inversion of the andean belt over a buried spreading center?

B. Scalabrino, Y. Lagabrielle, J. Malavieille, S. Dominguez, D. Melnick, F. Espinoza, M. Suarez, E. Rossello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


We use digital elevation models and satellite imagery data completed with field observations to develop an integrated morphotectonic analysis of the anomalous topography of the Central Cordillera of Patagonia between 46°S and 48°S, in a region overlying subducted segments of the Chile Spreading Ridge. This region shows a number of peculiar features, not expected in a normal subduction‐related belt located away from a buried spreading center. First, it is characterized by overall short‐wavelength topography and highly contrasted reliefs, typical of deeply incised young mountain belts, but surprisingly, also by an average very low elevation of ∼900 m. Second, the Cordillera lacks central high reliefs; instead, there is a central, depressed domain with average low slope gradients including the deepest point of the study area (300 m below sea level in the bottom of Lake General Carrera/Buenos Aires). This depressed area is flanked by western and eastern regions of higher elevation having opposite general slope dips. To the east, the central Patagonian Cordillera is now separated from the flat plains of the Pampean domain (representing its former piedmont) and several elevated basaltic plateaus (mesetas) by 160°N–180°N trending morphotectonic corridors and the western border scarps of the mesetas. These scarps correspond to neotectonic features controlled by recent vertical faults, mostly active after 3 Ma. Remnants of a former peneplain, the Avellanos surface, are widespread within the entire Cordilleran region. From geological evidence, this peneplain formed between 15 and 4 Ma and was connected originally with the mesetas domain and now is dissected by these corridors. It is shown that a negative inversion related to extensional and strike‐slip faulting occurred in the frontal region of the Cordillera at 3 Ma synchronously with the emplacement of magmatic products. Timing of the extensional deformation in central Patagonia is concomitant with the migration at depth of different segments of the South Chile Ridge, which entered the trench at 6 and 3 Ma, respectively, and the consequent opening of a slab window allows asthenospheric hot mantle to reach lithospheric regions. Finally, migration of segments of the Chile Spreading Ridge since 6 Ma triggered regional uplift of the Cordillera followed by limited extension in relation with increased thermal weakening of the crust.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberTC2010
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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