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Continental Margin Deformation along the Andean Subduction zone: Thermomechanical Models

Abstract : The Chilean Andes extend north-south for about 3000 km over the subducting Nazca plate, and show evidence of local rheological controls on first-order tectonic features. Here, rheological parameters are tested with numerical models of a subduction zone incorporating slab-pull and upper plate convergence, which calculate the development of stress and strain over a typical period of 4 Myr. The models test the effects of subduction interface strength, arc and fore-arc crust rheology, and arc temperature, on the development of superficial near-surface faulting as well as viscous shear-zones in the mantle. Deformation geometries are controlled by the intersection of the subduction interface with continental rheological heterogeneities. Upper plate shortening and trench advance are both correlated, and favored, to a first order by upper plate weakness, and to a second order by interface strength. In cases of a strong interface, a weak forearc crust is dragged downward by “tectonic erosion”, a scenario for which indications are found along the northern Chilean margin. In contrast for a resistant forearc, the slab-pull force transmits to the surface and produces topographic subsidence. This process may explain present-day subsidence of the Salar de Atacama basin and/or the persistence of a Central Depression. Specific conditions for northern Chile produce a shear zone that propagates from the subduction zone in the mantle, through the Altiplano lower crust into the Subandean crust, as proposed by previous studies. Models with a weak interface in turn, allow buoyant subducted material to rise into the continental arc. In case of cessation of the slab-pull, this buoyant material may rise enough to change the stress state in the continental crust, and lead to back-arc opening. In a case of young and hydrated oceanic plate forced by the slab-pull to subduct under a resistant continent, this plate is deviated and indented by the continental mantle, and stretches horizontally at ~100 km depth. This situation might explain the flat Wadati-Benioff zone of Central Chile.
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Contributor : Muriel Gerbault <>
Submitted on : Monday, October 25, 2010 - 11:58:16 AM
Last modification on : Monday, April 5, 2021 - 2:26:09 PM
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Muriel Gerbault, José Cembrano, Mpodozis Constantino, Farias Marcelo, Pardo Mario. Continental Margin Deformation along the Andean Subduction zone: Thermomechanical Models. Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, Elsevier, 2009, 177, pp.180-205. ⟨10.1016/j.pepi.2009.09.001⟩. ⟨ird-00529246⟩



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