Late Cenozoic geomorphologic signal of Andean forearc deformation and tilting associated with the uplift and climate changes of the Southern Atacama Desert (26°S-28°S)

Rodrigo Riquelme, Gérard Hérail, Joseph Martinod, Reynaldo Charrier, José Darrozes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


We analyze remarkable examples of the large (∼ 10,000 km2) and local-scale (∼ 100 km2) landscape forms related to Late Cenozoic geomorphologic evolution of the Andean forearc region in the Southern Atacama Desert. We also consider the continental sedimentary deposits, so-called "Atacama Gravels", which are related to the degradation of the landscape during the Neogene. Our analysis integrates 1:50,000 field cartography, Landsat TM images observations, ∼ 1:1000 sedimentary logging data, and 50 m horizontal resolution topographic data to reconstruct the Late Cenozoic geomorphologic evolution of this region and discuss the factors that control it, i.e., Miocene aridification of the climate and Neogene Central Andean uplift. We determine that the Precordillera was already formed in the Oligocene and most of the present-day altitude of the Precordillera was reached before that time. Afterward, five episodes of geomorphologic evolution can be differentiated: (1) the development of an Oligocene deep incised drainage system cutting the uplifted Precordillera (up to 2000 m of vertical incision) and connecting it to the Ocean; followed by (2) the infilling of deep incised valleys by up to 400 m of Atacama Gravels. This infill started in the Early Miocene with the development of fluvial deposition and finished in the Middle Miocene with playa and playa lake depositions. We propose that playa-related deposition occurs in an endorheic context related to tectonic activity of the Atacama Fault System and Coastal Cordillera uplift. However, the upward sedimentologic variation in the Atacama Gravels evidences a progressive aridification of the climate. Subsequently, we have identified the effects of the Middle-Upper Miocene slow tectonic deformation: the Neogene Andean uplift is accommodated by a tilting or flexuring of the inner-forearc (Central Depression and Precordillera) related to some hundreds of meters of uplift in the Precordillera. This tilting or flexuring results in (3) the Middle Miocene re-opening of the valley network to the Pacific Ocean. Upper Miocene aridification, from arid to hyperarid, induces alluvial fans backfilling in the Central Depression (4) resulting in up to 50 m of Atacama Gravel deposition. Finally, in response to an increase in the rate of tilting, a new phase of vertical incision (up to 800 m in the Precordillera) allows the development of the canyon that crosses the forearc (5).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-306
Number of pages24
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2007


  • Atacama Desert
  • Climate changes
  • Neogene
  • Tectonics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Late Cenozoic geomorphologic signal of Andean forearc deformation and tilting associated with the uplift and climate changes of the Southern Atacama Desert (26°S-28°S)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this