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Strike-slip deformation within the Colombian Andes

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EXGEO-CGG, Maracaibo, Venezuela (e-mail:

Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College, Royal School of Mines, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BP, UK

Ingeominas, Diagonal 53# 3453, Bogot, Colombia

Abstract: The Colombian Andes are characterized by a dominant NE structural trend, which is offset by ENE-trending right-lateral and NW-trending left-lateral structures. NE-trending faults are either dip-slip or oblique thrusts, generated as a result of a transpressive regime active since at least Palaeogene times. NW-trending faults are considered to be reactivated pre-Cretaceous extensional structures. Right-lateral shear on ENE-trending faults has resulted from oblique convergence between the Nazca Plate and the Northern Andes. Major changes in the geometry of the oblique-plate convergence between the Nazca and South American plates have generated the northward escape of the Northern Andes and stressstrain partitioning within the mountain belt. These strike-slip structures have exerted important controls on sedimentation, source-rock distribution, fluid flow and ore mineralization during Cenozoic times. The interpretation of the Northern Andes as a mountain belt affected by strike-slip deformation provides a structural context in which to reassess the exploration plays.

The Colombian Andes have been interpreted as an assemblage of terraines that have been accreted to South America with a dominant NNE structural trend (Etayo-Serna et al. 1983; Lpez & Barrero 2003). This interpretation has led to the assumption of plane strain deformation, orthogonal to the strike of the main structures, which, in Colombia, is almost parallel to the continental margin (Fig. 1). For this reason, the Colombian Andes have been described as a classical fold and thrust belt (Mojica & Franco 1990; Schamel 1991; Cooper et al. 1995). However, oblique ENE and NW strike-slip deformation has been recognised in the region (Feininger 1970; Boinet et al. 1986; Diederix et al. 1987; Cuervo 1995; Velandia & Komuro 1998; Montes 2001; Ujueta 2001; Branquet et al. 2002; Acosta et al. 2004) and the importance of these structures in the evolution of the belt has, for the most part, been neglected. In this paper, a variety of geological, geophysical, geodetic and geodynamic information has been integrated to examine the origin and evolution and of some of these strike-slip fault systems within the Colombian Andes.

Regional setting
The Andean Belt from northern Colombia to Ecuador is divided into three mountain ranges (cordilleras), which merge near 1N latitude.

Each of these cordilleras has a different composition and evolution as a result of different tectonic processes that have affected the region since Mesozoic times. The Central Cordillera originated in response to Triassic subduction and consequent volcanic and igneous activity (Barrero et al. 1969; Barrero & Vesga 1976; Bartok et al. 1981). Triassic and Jurassic backarc rifting generated a predominantly NESW structural trend that influenced the sedimentation in the adjacent Magdalena Valley and Eastern Cordillera. The Western Cordillera is composed of oceanic crust and deformed deep marine sediments, representing an accretionary complex established in the Late Cretaceous (de Freitas et al. 1997). The Eastern Cordillera represents the inversion of thick Mesozoic and Tertiary sedimentary basins (see Taboada et al. 2000). Eastward subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the Northern Andes occurs at c. 60 mm a1 (Trenkamp et al. 2002) along the western margin of Ecuador and Colombia (Fig. 1). Additionally, north of latitude 8N, the Caribbean Plate is moving ESE at an average velocity of 20 mm a1 (Trenkamp et al. 2002). As a result of the oblique convergence of both the Nazca and the Caribbean Plates with the Northern Andes, the Andean block (Fig. 1) is moving northeastwards relative to the South American Plate (Pennington 1981; Kellogg et al. 1985;

From: RIES, A. C., BUTLER, R. W. H. & GRAHAM, R. H. (eds) 2007. Deformation of the Continental Crust: The Legacy of Mike Coward. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 272, 303319. 0305-8719/07/$15 The Geological Society of London 2007.



Fig. 1. Tectonic setting of the Colombian Andes.

Freymueller et al. 1993; Kellogg & Vega 1995; Mann 1995; Trenkamp et al. 2002). Within the Andean Block, NE- and NWtrending thrust faults are offset by ENE-trending right-lateral and NW trending left-lateral strikeslip faults. Whereas some researchers consider these structures as local accommodation structures around folds and thrusts (Camargo 1995; Cooper et al. 1995; Branquet et al. 1999a,b; Corredor 2003), in this paper it is argued that they are regionally significant and represent a transpressive regime affecting the entire Northern Andes.

The Algeciras Fault system

The Algeciras Fault system occurs in the central part of the Eastern Cordillera in SW Colombia and continues southward for more than 800 km into Ecuador and the Gulf of Guayaquil (Velandia et al. 2005) (Fig. 1). Features of

neotectonic activity have been identified along straight segments of the Algeciras Fault, which are associated with right-lateral slip (Chorowicz et al. 1996; Vergara 1996; Velandia & Komuro 1998). These features include synthetic and antithetic Riedel faults, principal displacement zones (PDZ), pull-apart basins (such as lazy-S shaped releasing bends, extensive and rhomboidalshaped and releasing sidestep basins) and minor folds, located oblique to the main trace of the fault system (Fig. 2). The generation and boundaries of the pull-apart basins are dominated by transverse NW basement faults (e.g. the Sibundoy Basin). Strike-slip indicators mainly concentrate along ENE segments, whereas associated thrust faults occur along NE-trending segments. Changes in the orientation of these

Fig. 2. The Algeciras Fault system (after Velandia et al. 2005). Inset images are Landsat TM 5 scenes.





segments are also controlled by NW-trending structures. The Algeciras Fault system is classified as a right-lateral strike-slip complex structure, with an important vertical component in which sedimentary cover and basement rocks are involved. Velandia et al. (2005) describe this fault as a zone of simple shear, caused by the oblique convergence between the Nazca Plate and the Northern Andes. It marks the boundary of the neotectonic transpressive regime in the Northern Andes which begins in Ecuador and continues into Colombia and Venezuela. The Quetame Massif, which lies at the northern end of the Algeciras Fault system, is

interpreted as a major transpressional structure, whereas active volcanism along the Colombian Ecuadorian border at the southern end of the Algeciras Fault System indicates transtension.

Upper Magdalena Valley

The Upper Magdalena Valley is an intermontane basin that lies between the Eastern and Central Cordilleras. It has been divided into the Girardot and Neiva sub-basins, which are separated by the Natagaima Uplift (Beltrn & Gallo 1979; Corrigan 1979). As shown in Figures 3 and 4, the Neiva sub-basin exhibits three structural styles, as follows.

Fig. 3. Digital topographic model (DEM) of the Upper Magdalena Valley with main structural elements.



Fig. 4. DEM of Neiva sub-basin with major faults. 1, Chusma Fault; 2, El Agrado-Dina Fault; 3, Rivera Fault; 4, La Plata Fault; 5, Santa Helena Fault; 6, Platanillal Fault; 7, El Hobo Fault; 8, Neiva Fault; 9, Paso de Bobo Fault.

(1) NNE-trending thrusts carry preCretaceous crystalline and Lower Cretaceous rocks over Cenozoic strata (Chusma, El Agrado Dina and Rivera faults, Fig. 4). According to Butler & Schamel (1987), the Chusma Fault is a pre-existing basement structure that was reactivated during the Late EoceneEarly Oligocene. The El AgradoDina Fault is a thrust fault associated with the Chusma Fault, which, along with other minor thrust faults, forms an east-verging imbricate fan system. The west-verging Rivera Fault constitutes the boundary of the Eastern Cordillera with the Magdalena Valley. (2) ENE-trending, right-lateral strike-slip steep faults form a left-stepping array (e.g. La Plata, Santa Helena, Platanillal and Hobo faults, Fig. 4) that affects pre-Cretaceous basement to Neogene rocks (Fig. 4). Drag folds, observed next to some of these faults, demonstrate the strike-slip nature of the structures (e.g the Santa Helena Fault). Some of these faults are lateral ramps for the north and NE reactivated faults of the Central Cordillera foothills (e.g. ChusmaLa Plata system, Butler & Schamel 1987). However, the ENE-trending system continues along the Neiva sub-basin under Quaternary deposits and even affects the Eastern Cordillera (Figs 3 and 4). A large number of active neotectonic features occur along these faults. (3) NW-trending, left-lateral strike-slip steep faults involve pre-Cretaceous basement to Neogene rocks (Neiva and Paso de Bobo faults, Fig. 4). Some workers (e.g. Renzoni 1994; Velandia

2001) have shown that these faults have been active since at least Early Cretaceous times and controlled Cretaceous and Cenozoic sedimentation along the Upper Magdalena Basin. In addition, Neogene to Quaternary basic volcanic rocks, at the junction of these NW-trending faults and NE-trending structures (Velandia 2001), indicate that the structures are still active.

Central Cordillera and Middle Magdalena Valley

The central part of the Central Cordillera comprises igneous and metamorphic rocks affected by a NE-trending system (Palestina Fault), an ENE system (Ibagu Fault), a NW system (Arma Fault) and an arcuate fault system that bounds the cordillera to the west (Romeral Fault system) (Fig. 5). This last system is a suture zone along which oceanic crust collided obliquely with a continental margin, 6549 Ma ago (Barrero et al. 1969). The Palestina Fault system is a N30Etrending right-lateral zone that cuts through the Central Cordillera (Fig. 5) and is assumed to have developed as a result of the oblique collision of the oceanic crust during the Late Cretaceous (Feininger 1970). Strike-slip deformation along this system, (1) generated the San Lucas Serrania, a transpressive duplex located at the northern end, (2) caused an over-step where dragging and right-lateral displacement of basement faults



Fig. 5. DEM and map of main faults and volcanos of the Central Cordillera (CC) and Middle Magdalena Valley (MV). SLC, San Lucas Serrana; RmV Romerales Volcano; CBV, Cerro Bravo Volcano; RV, Ruiz Volcano; QV, Quindio Volcano; TV, Tolima Volcano; MV, Machin Volcano; WC, Western Cordillera; CV, Cauca Valley; EC, Eastern Cordillera.

occurred on the central part, and (3) created oblique right-lateral and normal faults that are active and control the Quaternary magmatism at the southern end of the system (Fig 5). In addition, an analysis of the magmatic rocks in this region during the present study showed that it has migrated from north to south since the Eocene. Similarly, reactivation of NW-trending faults during this time has affected the horsetail structure of the Palestina Fault system and therefore migration of magmatism and reactivation of NW-trending faults is closely related. Hence the

emplacement of the volcanic bodies in this part of the Central Cordillera contrasts with that observed at the ColombiaEcuador border. The Ibagu Fault system right-laterally offsets the Central Cordillera by 25 km (Figs 5 & 6) (Montes et al. 2005). This N70E-trending system is a left-stepping array that can be traced through the Central Cordillera from the Cauca Valley to the Magdalena Valley; it may continue
Fig. 6. Neotectonic map of the Ibagu Fault.







into the Eastern Cordillera as the Viani Fault. The main strand of the fault is a succession of shutter ridges, pull-apart basins and synthetic faults within the Ibagu Fan (Fig. 6). Palaeoseismological studies along the main strand of the Ibagu Fan indicate an average strike-slip rate of 0.77 mm a1 for the last 15 Ka (Montes et al. 2006). Assuming a constant slip rate of 0.77 mm a1, would imply that the Ibagu Fault has been active from Late Eocene to Early Oligocene times to account for the 25 km of lateral displacement along the Central Cordillera. However, Montes et al. (2006) also determined strike-slip rates as high as 3.8 mm a1 for the Ibagu Fault, which, if constant over geological time, would indicate that activity on the fault was much more recent (Middle to Late Miocene). In this study, it is assumed that the average of the strike-slip rates reported by Montes et al. (2006) is probably the valid number to use and that the Ibagu Fault became active in the Middle to Late Oligocene. NW-trending faults cut basement rocks of the Central Cordillera and Upper Magdalena Valley (Fig. 7). These faults are continuous from the western foothills through the Central Cordillera to the eastern foothills. The main structure of this system is the Arma Fault, which is an oblique normal, left-lateral fault. Gold-bearing igneous dykes are found only along the NW-trending faults (Lozano & Murillo 1983). A set of NE-trending, steeply dipping predominantly normal left-lateral faults have also been identified in the western foothills of the Eastern Cordillera and Middle Magdalena Valley, which affect Neogene to Quaternary sediments (Acosta et al. 2004). The NW-trending structures are clearly related to focal mechanisms at depths of 2440 km (Fig. 7), and confirm the reactivation of the NWSE-trending faults, as previously proposed by several workers in regional studies of the Northern Andes (Acosta 1983; Gmez 1991; Ujueta 2001; Velandia & De Bermoudes 2002). The BucaramangaSanta Marta Fault has a relatively straight trace to the north of the Middle Magdalena Valley (Campbell 1968; Boinet et al. 1986). The deformation zone of this N30Wtrending, left-lateral strike-slip fault can be traced for c. 500 km through northern Colombia (Fig. 8) The fault zone is defined by a set of
Fig. 7. (a) Digital Elevation Model of central Colombia, (b) stereonet plot of Neogene and Quaternary faults, (c) shallow focal mechanism solutions in the western foothills of the Eastern Cordillera and Middle Magdalena Valley (b and c modified from A costa et al. 2004).

approximately parallel faults that splay from, and rejoin, the main fault strand within a 10 km wide strip. A set of NW-trending low to moderately dipping thrust faults, striking subparallel to the main strand, also occur within the fault zone. Seismic profiles, perpendicular to the main structures on the western block of the Bucaramanga Fault (Fig. 8), show typical elements of many thrust belts around the world, including basin inversion, thin-skinned thrusting and decoupling of the post-rift cover, out-ofsequence thrusting and thick-skinned basement involved thrusting. However, in this study features typical of strike-slip movement, associated with the Bucaramanga Fault, have also been observed: (1) complex unconformities; (2) large structural changes along strike such as noncylindrical folding of the detachment level; (3) change from open to isoclinal folding along the axis of the detachment, showing non-planar deformation.

Eastern Cordillera
The core of the Eastern Cordillera is formed by metamorphic and sedimentary rocks of Palaeozoic age and igneous extrusive and intrusive rocks of Jurassic age. Longitudinal and transverse tectonic controls have exposed a thick sequence of Cretaceous sediments of differing facies and thickness in the axial zone of the cordillera. Cenozoic and unconsolidated Quaternary deposits partially cover the region, making it difficult to follow some of the structures. Strike-slip faulting in the axial zone of the Eastern Cordillera has been identified by several workers, who proposed that these structures are regionally related to subvertical or high-angle faults at depth (Kammer & Mojica 1996; Taboada et al. 2000; Sarmiento 2002). De Freitas et al. (1997) supported this interpretation, but additionally proposed that the NW-trending structures represent rift cross-faults. The Bucaramanga Fault system ends to the south in the axial zone of the Eastern Cordillera, in a compressional duplex structure that shows the left-lateral movement of the system (Fig. 9) (Velandia 2005). NE-trending right-lateral faults merge with the duplex to the south generating an arcuate complex structural pattern in the region. In the Paipa geothermal area, NW- and ENEtrending strike-slip structures have also been identified (Fig. 9). Right-lateral displacement along the ENE-trending faults, which affects the sedimentary sequence, was determined by striae



Fig. 8. Interpreted seismic profiles across the Bucaramanga Fault, Seismic data courtesy of Ecopetrol. Vertical scale in two-way travel time, to 5 seconds for sections A, B, and C; and 6 seconds for section D.

along the fault surfaces. These ENE-trending faults offset NE thrusts and are in concordance with the ENE strike-slip faults observed in the Central Cordillera (e.g. Ibagu Fault), and therefore are interpreted as a younger fault system rather than lateral ramps associated with the thrusts. NW-trending left-lateral shear zones, which occur to the SE, are associated with a Neogene

volcanic body that is the thermal source of the Paipa geothermal field. Regionally, the trace of the shear zone continues to the SE, where another volcanic body and the Iza geothermal system occur (Velandia 2005). These faults are interpreted as pre-existing extensional basement structures that were reactivated during the Andean tectonic phase and facilitated the magma emplacement.


Fig. 9. (a) Transpressive duplex at the south end of the Bucaramanga Fault, (b) local structures within the duplex, (c) geological map of the Paipa geothermal field.



Fig. 10. Tectonic map of the Nazca plate and Northern Andes. CGR, Carnegie Ridge; NP, Nazca Plate; YG, Yaquina Graben; MR, Malpelo Ridge; HF, Hey Fault; CR, Coiba Ridge; CP, Coiba Microplate; JF Jordan Fault, SP, South American Plate; RF, Romeral Fault; PF, Palestina Fault; ArF, Arma Fault; IF, Ibagu Fault; GF, Garrapatas Fault; AF, Algeciras Fault; DGM, Dolores-Guayaquil Megashear. The seismicity plotted in profiles A, B, C and D illustrates the dip of the subducting slab. Vertical scale of A and C is 150 km; B and D is 250 km. Seismic data from Ingeominas earthquake catalogue.

Partitioning within the Colombian Andes

NW-trending strike-slip deformation within the Colombian Andes is interpreted to be associated with pre-existing basement structures. However, some other questions arise, such as: what controls the ENE-trending strike-slip deformation, the timing of the deformation and the relationship between the NW-, NE- and ENE-trending strike-slip structures? To answer these questions, the changes in the dynamics and geometry of the subducting Nazca Plate under South America took place are considered. The subduction zone of the Nazca Plate, under the Northern Andes, is affected by

erosional and accretionary processes within the coupling zone. Submarine topographic anomalies, such as the Carnegie Ridge, the Yaquina Graben and other fossil ridges, have led to a segmentation of the subduction zone. Additionally, the geometrical relationship between the convergence vector and the shape of the trench has led to strain partitioning resulting from the fact that the convergence vector can be divided into two vectors, as proposed by Toro & Osorio (2002): (1) a vector orthogonal to the trench, indicated by the deformation within the coupling zone (Fig. 10), which favours shortening and inversion of NE-trending structures within the continent; (2) a vector parallel to the trench, which is



transferred into the continent, generating new ENE-trending shear structures and facilitating the reactivation of NW-trending pre-existing faults. As a result, four distinct segments can be identified along the Nazca subduction zone in Northern South America (Orozco 2004), as follows. (1) In the Ecuador segment, between the Gulf of Guayaquil and Esmeraldas in northern Ecuador (Fig. 10), the convergence vector is almost orthogonal to the trench, leading to a minimum of strain partitioning, as shown by the generation and reactivation of shortening structures that dominate the Andean Cordillera in Ecuador. ENE-trending strike-slip structures are present in the southern part of the segment along the DoloresGuayaquil Megashear (Dumont & Bentez 1996). Volcanic bodies to the north of the DoloresGuayaquil Megashear and absence of deep seismicity are the main tectonic processes within this segment. The lack of deep seismicity was used by Gutscher et al. (1999) to propose a flat slab under Ecuador. However, the volcanism seems contradictory to this hypothesis, but it could occur as a result of the volume compensation in a transtensional zone, related to major ENE-trending systems (e.g Algeciras Fault system). (2) In the Tumaco Segment, between Manta (Ecuador) and the mouth of the Patia River (Fig. 10), the convergence vector is 60 oblique to the trench, favouring the transfer of displacement and deformation to the continent. ENE-trending right-lateral strike-slip faults developed within the continent, such as those in the Upper Magdalena Valley and along the Algeciras Fault system. This segment represents a huge rupture zone along the trench where subduction earthquakes of magnitude Mw 8.8 (1906), Mw 7.9 (1942) and Mw 7.8 (1958) have been recorded. However, the scarcity of deep seismic activity makes it difficult to trace the subduction slab under the continent. Parallelism and changes in direction of the volcanic belt at the Colombia Ecuador border and the trench at the same latitude suggest that the geometry of the subduction zone changed. (3) The Buenaventura Segment, between the Garrapatas and Hey faults to the south and north, respectively (Fig. 10), is characterized by accretion in the coupling zone (Cediel et al. 2004), shallow and deep seismicity, and the presence of a volcanic arc. The convergence vector is semi-orthogonal to the trench (80), leading to the generation of ENE-trending right-lateral strike-slip faults within the continent, such as the Garrapatas and Ibague faults systems.

(4) The Coiba Segment lies between the Hey and Jordan faults forming the Coiba Microplate (Pennington 1981) (Fig. 10). This microplate was a part of the Nazca Plate, from which it split about 8 Ma ago to release the displacement of the Cocos and Nazca plates (Sayares & Charvis 2003). As a result, the Panama Fracture Zone and the Hey and Jordan faults were formed. Currently the neighbouring Nazca Plate (to the south) and Panama Block (to the north) are moving faster (60 mm a1 and 30 mm a1, respectively) eastward than the Coiba Microplate which is moving at 25 mm a1 (Mora 1995), hence making the subduction process less probable in the region. The absence of deep seismicity and volcanism in the Coiba Segment is consistent with these observations. Stress is directly transferred to the continent because of the orthogonal convergence of the block, generating shortening in the Baudo Serrania. The effect of the orthogonal convergence of the Coiba Microplate and the convergence vector of the Panama Block generates a SEtrending main stress direction within the continent, allowing tensional and left-lateral shear along pre-existing NW-, north- and NE-trending structures.

Global Positioning System data

GPS data collected from 1994 to 2003 within the North Andean Block and plotted with respect to South America confirm that part of the convergence vector is transferred to the continent, as expressed by Trenkamp et al. (2002), with values of displacement that reach 21 mm a1 with an azimuth ranging from 58 to 89. An elastic locking and aseismic slip imply a slip interface that is locked by enough friction to permit part of the Nazca Plate velocity to be transferred to the overriding South America Plate with the plate still sliding into the mantle with part of the original plate velocity (Trenkamp et al. 2002). The deformation caused by these vectors can be interpreted as: (1) continental elasticplastic deformation, part of which will be recovered in an elastic slip event, such as an earthquake, on the subduction zone and part of which permanently deforms the Andean crust; (2) active tectonic faulting oblique to the trench, where the deformation is homogeneously distributed in simple shear zones, as proposed by Folgera et al. (2002). Results from GPS data obtained before, and after, the 1999 earthquake, plus the ENEtrending strike-slip faulting indicate that both deformation mechanisms are simultaneously acting in the Colombian Andes. Therefore, either



transpressional or transtensional systems will be developed, and wide continental areas will be affected by rotational shear. In addition, there is a possible visco-elastic overprinting deformation on a subset of those vectors between 2 and 4N (White et al. 2003). However, the visco-elastic part is not the main signal that is being observed. Visco-elastic processes are longer wavelength and elastic processes are shorter wavelength phenomena. In other words, when an earthquake occurs, the elastic effect is generally over in a year or two but visco-elastic processes continue for decades or centuries.

Timing and relationship between structures

Tectono-stratigraphic studies of Colombia have demonstrated the existence of pre-Cretaceous rifting which gave rise to NE-trending normal faults and NW-trending cross-fault systems (Cooper et al. 1995; Acosta 2002). At the end of the Mesozoic (66 Ma), the Caribbean Plate relative motion changed in the west from northeastward to eastward and began to underthrust northern South America (Mattson 1984). This drove the oblique accretion of the Western Cordillera along the Romeral Fault from 68 to 49 Ma (Barrero et al. 1969), causing uplift and erosion in the Central Cordillera (Cooper et al. 1995). As a result of the oblique collision of the oceanic crust during the Late Cretaceous, strikeslip systems, such as the Palestina Fault, were active (Feininger 1970). It is therefore assumed that simple shear deformation occurred within the Northern Andes during this time, as proposed by Tikoff & Teyssier (1994) and Teyssier et al. (1995). The FarallonPhoenix Plate separated into the Nazca and Cocos plates at about 27 Ma, increasing the convergence rate between the Nazca and South American plates (Mattson 1984). This event coincided with the initiation of the Ibague Fault system and the other ENEtrending right-lateral strike-slip fault systems within the Northern Andes. Additionally, NWtrending left-lateral strike-slip fault systems started to be reactivated almost at the same time, suggesting that the convergence angle, although oblique, became more orthogonal than it had been previously. The change in the convergence angle, the rheological heterogeneities within the region and the action of the newly formed ENE-trending right-lateral strike-slip faults have facilitated the continuous differential reactivation of preexisting basement faults since the Oligocene. Some NE-trending basement structures, such as the Chusma Fault, inverted as oblique thrusts

by taking advantage of the partition generated by ENE-trending structures that acted as lateral ramps. NW-trending rift cross-faults, reactivated as oblique left-lateral normal faults together with the ENE-trending right-lateral faults, acted as barriers for the Cenozoic sedimentation in the inter-montane valleys. The accretion of the arcuate Panama Block in the northwestern corner of Colombia (DuqueCaro 1990), combined with the generation of the Coiba Microplate as a result of the formation of the Panama fracture zone and Hey and Jordan faults, was responsible for the major episode of Miocene deformation in the Colombian Andes. This last major event in the region led to a present-day maximum horizontal stress directions of 112 and 138 (Castillo & Mojica 1990). In addition, Acosta et al. (2004), based on measurement of kinematic data, earthquake focal mechanisms and borehole breakout data, inferred a NW-trending principal incremental strain axis (shortening axis) for the region at the present, which may have extended back to the Late Neogene, as no significant changes to plate movement directions are thought to have occurred since 11 Ma (e.g. Daly 1989). Therefore, the NW-trending incremental strain is parallel or subparallel to the NWtrending pre-existing faults. This favours their reactivation and opening as tension faults, along which hydrothermal fluids and Neogene magmas have risen.

Implications for mineral and hydrocarbon exploration

The different rheological properties of the rocks on either side of these strike-slip structures and their different thicknesses exert a pronounced control on the structural style. On one side tight complex structures are developed, whereas on the other wide and simple folds are formed as is observed in the Upper Magdalena Valley. This pattern could affect the petroleum system if strike-slip fault systems act as migration pathways. The ENE- and NW-trending strike-slip faults are associated with two different processes that might be either favourable or damaging for the structural trapping of hydrocarbons. Continuous reactivation of pre-existing basement faults plus the generation of new strike-slip structures enhances fracturing that is accompanied by infilling of fluids, some of which generate hydrothermalsedimentary deposits; for example, the occurrence of emeralds as proposed by Branquet et al. (1999a), and ore mineral deposits, as suggested by Lozano & Murillo



(1983). Major concentrations of minerals, hydrothermal fluids and volcanism (especially cinder cones) are usually associated with the junction of the NE-, NW- and ENE-trending systems. The continuous deformation process has also led to damage of pre-existing ore mineral deposits. The enhanced heat flow arising from hydrothermal fluid circulation along the strike-slip fault systems may have made organic hydrocarbons overmature. Emplacement of magma can occur, as in the Paipa and Iza geothermal fields in the Eastern Cordillera, affecting sedimentary sequences and emplacing porphyritic bodies along shear zones in the Central Cordillera, which can destroy any previously ore-enriched sedimentary sequences.

Stress and strain partitioning within the Northern Andes is due to the oblique convergence vector of the Nazca Plate and to the changes in the geometry of the coupling zone, which induce a transpressive regime in the region. This partitioning was expressed during Early Cenozoic times along transcurrent fault systems, subparallel to the margin (e.g. Palestina Fault system), and then along ENE-trending rightlateral structures, such as the Ibagu Fault, since the Late Palaeogene. This partitioning also favoured the inversion of pre-existing NE-trending faults as oblique structures and the reactivation of pre-existing NW-trending faults as left-lateral structures. A conjugate movement with a right-lateral sense of motion and partitioning along left-lateral strike-slip faults led to a counterclockwise rotation of the Andean Block and northward expulsion of the whole block. The existence of strike-slip deformation along the Colombian mountain belt is favourable for the occurrence of ore-mineral deposits and provides a new structural style that should be considered in the of assessment hydrocarbon exploration plays.
We thank P. Cobbold and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments, Douglas Hamilton for help with the English, A. Rees and R. Graham for editorial revisions, and Ingeominas for permission to publish DEM data. This research was inspired by discussions with Mike Coward while J. Acosta conducted his PhD under Mikes supervision.

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