Loa-Geo1: A field regional transect to unravel the structure of the western Central Andes

F. Martínez, C. López, R. Cisternas

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The structure of the Central Andes forearc of northern Chile has been an enigma for many years. Along this region, the preservation of a long pediplain constituted by gravels and unconsolidated sediments has hidden the structure of the region, making it difficult to understand its tectonic evolution. The traditional and regional-scale structural models are mainly supported by outcrop-scale and local observations. To unravel the structure of this Andes region, we carried out a regional-scale study based on local and regional observations, geological mapping, and the elaboration of local and regional balanced cross-sections, thereby illustrating the geometry and distribution of the first-order structural styles. We examined four specific sectors along a regional transect: the Loa and San Salvador rivers (parallel to each other), Sierra de Limón Verde, and Cerros de Tuina. Three structural styles were identified in the hybrid thick- and thin-skinned and doubly verging fold-and-thrust belt. These styles comprise partially inverted Permian to Jurassic normal faults, thick-skinned reverse faults affecting Paleozoic crystalline basement blocks, and shallow and thin-skinned fault-related folds. The shallow and thin-skinned fault-related folds usually result from the propagation of large, thick-skinned thrust ramps into stratigraphic successions. The restoration of a regionally balanced cross section constrained by field data and the previously interpreted two-dimensional (2-D) seismic profiles suggest that much of the crustal shortenings are accommodated by the reverse reactivation of Triassic and Jurassic normal faults bounding half-graben structures. It is also accommodated by blind thrust faults, whose geometry, kinematic, and depth are debatable. However, we have proposed a large, thick-skinned thrust ramp as the structure responsible for the greater shortening in the region, along which a significant thick- to thin-skinned transition occurs. The age of the synorogenic deposits identified here is unknown, specially those exposed at the Loa and San Salvador rives, however, the basal successions exposed at the Tuina sector reported Upper Cretaceous ages, thus suggesting that the orogeny in the forearc could have started during this time spam. Regional correlations with similar synorogenic deposits recognized in neighboring regions (e.g., Salar de Atacama Basin and Coastal Cordillera) also affirm an Upper Cretaceous–Paleocene age for the initiation of the crustal contraction in the region.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104011
JournalJournal of South American Earth Sciences
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Andean forearc
  • Andean tectonic
  • Basin inversion
  • Northern Chile
  • Western Central Andes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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