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Cediel, F., R. P. Shaw, and C. Caceres, 2003, Tectonic assembly of the
Northern Andean Block, in C. Bartolini, R. T. Buffler, and J. Blickwede,
eds., The Circum-Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean: Hydrocarbon
habitats, basin formation, and plate tectonics: AAPG Memoir 79,
p. 815 848.

Tectonic Assembly of the

Northern Andean Block
Fabio Cediel
Geotec Ltda., Bogota, Colombia

Robert P. Shaw
Geotec Ltda., Bogota, Colombia

Carlos Caceres
Geotec Ltda., Bogota, Colombia


ased primarily on geologic field observations as recorded by numerous
geoscientists over the last three decades, backed by more recent geo-
chemical, seismic, gravity, magnetic, tomographic, and satellite-based
techniques, an integrated synthesis and interpretation of the tectonic assembly of
the entire Northern Andean Block (the Andes of Ecuador, Colombia, and Ven-
ezuela) is presented. Tectonic reconstruction is based on the identification and
characterization of more than 30 distinct lithotectonic and morphostructural
units (including terranes, terrane assemblages, physiographic domains, etc.) and
their bounding suture and fault systems, which, based on geologic, geophysical,
and dynamo-tectonic considerations, define four distinct tectonic realms
representing the entire Northern Andean region. These include the Guiana
Shield Realm (GSR), the Maracaibo subplate Realm (MSP), the Central Continental
subplate Realm (CCSP), and the Western Tectonic Realm (WTR). The GSR pro-
vided the backstop for the progressive, accretionary continental growth of
northwestern South America in the middlelate Proterozoic, in the middle
Paleozoic, and finally during the Mesozoic-Cenozoic Northern Andean orogeny.
Middle Cretaceous through Miocene time slices illustrate how, beginning in the
Aptian, the sequential dextral-oblique accretion of the allochthonous oceanic
WTR along the Pacific margin acted simultaneously with the northwest
migration of the MSP (a detached segment of the Guiana Shield) into and over
the Caribbean plate, exerting enormous transpression upon the CCSP trapped
between them. Each tectonic realm contributed distinct tectonic mechanisms
during Northern Andean cause and response orogenesis, and each realm re-
cords a unique internal deformational style, which in large part provides the basis
for realm definition. Additionally, based on lithologic, geochemical, and pa-
leomagnetic data and paleogeographic reconstructions, the intimate and
complementary Mesozoic-Cenozoic history of the Northern Andean Block and
the Caribbean plate are recognized. The migratory path of the Caribbean plate

816 / Cediel et al.

along the western and northern margin of the South American craton, as recorded
by the accretionary history of the allochthonous WTR, has been instrumental in
the modern-day configuration of the Northern Andean Block.
Throughout this paper, the importance and contribution of underlying
Proterozoic through middle Mesozoic geostructural elements in the development
of Mesozoic-Cenozoic Northern Andean orogeny-phase tectonic configuration
(structural style, uplift mechanisms, basin development, magmatism, etc.) are
stressed. Additionally, the complex reality of Northern Andean Block assembly is
contrasted with classical Central Andean Cordilleran-type orogenic models,
and numerous differences are illustrated that render the application of typical
Cordilleran-type models unacceptable. These differences are exemplified by the
highly oblique collision/accretion/subduction tectonics of allochthonous oce-
anic terranes in the WTR, the detachment, migration and plis de fondstyle of
deformation in the MSP and the unique, transpressive pop-up of the Eastern
Cordillera in the CCSP, all of which have no geologic analog in the Central Andes.
buscar cada una

INTRODUCTION by three principal lithospheric plates: the Pacific

(Nazca) and Caribbean plates of oceanic affinity, and
The present-day tectonic mosaic occupying the the South American plate, cored in this region by the
northwestern corner of South America is dominated continental Guiana Shield, and including the North-
ern Andean Block (Figure 1). In this domain, various
authors (e.g., Gansser, 1973a, b; Shagam, 1975; Mei-
jer, 1995) have recognized the Northern Andean
Block as a distinct geologic segment of the Andean
Cordillera, as illustrated by the application of litho-
spheric modeling, stress field analyses, and tomo-
graphic images (Van der Hilst, 1990; Van der Hilst
and Mann, 1994). Regardless, integrated attempts to
interpret the geotectonic history of the entire North-
ern Andean Block are temporally and/or regionally
fragmented and have become dated somewhat with
respect to the currently available database (e.g., Gan-
sser, 1973a, b; Shagam, 1975; Burke et al., 1984; Fei-
ninger, 1987; Aspden et al., 1987).
In parallel with recent developments in the
understanding of the Northern Andes, increasingly
high-quality geophysical and geochemical defini-
tions of the Caribbean and Pacific oceanic domains
has led to the generation of various models that
attempt to explain the origin and evolution of the
Caribbean plate. These models were summarized by
Mann (1995, figure 13 and p. xxx), who synthesized
the following (mutually exclusive) end-member
hypotheses for Caribbean plate origin:

Figure 1. Tectonic framework of northwestern South 1) The Caribbean oceanic plateau forms by the
America. NAB = Northern Andean Block; Car = Caribbean
separation of North and South America during
plate; Nzc = Nazca plate; Coc = Cocos plate; Nam = North
American plate; Afr = African plate; GS = Guiana Shield; the period 130 to 80 Ma, or
Ec, Col, Ve = geographic limits of Ecuador, Colombia and 2) The Caribbean oceanic plateau forms as normal
Venezuela, respectively. Pacific oceanic crust, drifts over the Galapagos
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 817

hot spot, thickened in the middle to late Cre- REGIONAL TECTONICS IN THE
taceous, and passes into the gap between North NORTHERN ANDES
and South America (see figure 13 of Mann, 1995).
Since Dewey and Bird (1970), in consonance with
Given these proposed models, in conjunction the rise of global tectonics, proposed the classifica-
with the modern-day tectonic configuration of north- tion of mountain systems as Cordilleran-type
western South America, it is apparent that the North- versus Collision-type, geoscientists have sought
ern Andes and Caribbean plate must share an inti- to understand and classify the origin of the Andean
mate and complementary geotectonic evolution. It Cordillera. This process has branded the region as a
follows that integrated analysis of the evolution of classic example of the Cordilleran-type domain.
the Northern Andean Block (the Andes sensu lato of Such a classification contains a fundamental error
Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela) is an indispens- with respect to the Andean Cordillera in that it views
able process in the construction or evaluation of any the Andes as a single, homogenous geotectonic
tectonic model involving the plate mosaic compris- unit a supposition that could not be farther from
ing northwestern South America and including the the truth. It must be born in mind that:
Caribbean plate.
Abundant new geological information has been 1) The Northern Andes (like the Southern Andes)
generated for the Northern Andean Block and differs substantially from the Central (classi-
surrounding region during the last 20 years. It is the cal) Andes in numerous critical aspects, includ-
objective of this paper, utilizing this and our own ing the nature and age of underlying basement
published and unpublished studies, to present an and continental margin, the nature and evolu-
updated, regionally and temporally integrated inter- tion of stress field regimes during uplift, the na-
pretation of the geotectonic evolution of northwest- ture and age of subducting (colliding) oceanic
ern South America, focusing on the entire Northern crust, and the timing and style of deformation
Andean Block. In the process, we hope to provide in- and magmatism.
sight into the migratory path of the Caribbean plate. 2) The Collision-type classification scarcely con-
The geological database pertaining to northwest- sidered the mechanics of collisions between a
ern South America is extensive. Government sector continental block and, for example, oceanic pla-
information is easily accessible; however, important teaus, and/or aseismic oceanic ridges and imma-
but less available data for the region is the product of ture intra-oceanic arc complexes; even today, these
hydrocarbon exploration (e.g., Audemard, 1991; Ce- mechanics remains incompletely understood.
diel et al., 1998) and, to a lesser degree, mineral explo- 3) The role, mechanics, and variations generated in
ration and academic research. In our present analysis, transpressional collisional regimes, and sub-
studies founded on field-oriented observations were duction regimes involving strongly oblique ap-
given priority emphasis, although studies involv- proach and docking systematics were not well
ing the Caribbean and Pacific plates have relied to classified with respect to the Cordilleran and
some degree on various geophysical techniques. A Collision orogenic types. Again, these processes
representative sample of Northern Andean literature remain topics of active study and debate.
Ecuador: CODIGEM 1982, 1993a, b; Litherland These last two points are particularly relevant in
et al., 1994; Reynaud et al., 1999; Steinmann et al., understanding the orogenic evolution of the North-
1999; Hungerbu hler et al., 2002; Colombia: Trum- ern Andes, especially during the late Mesozoic and
py, 1949; Radelli, 1967; Barrero, 1977; Etayo et al., Cenozoic.
1983; Alfonso, 1993; Cediel et al., 1994; Estrada,
1995; Restrepo-Pace, 1995; Cediel et al., 1998; Ce-
diel and Caceres, 2000; Venezuela: Zambrano Tectonic Realms and Working Framework
et al., 1969; Shagam, 1972a, b; Bellizzia, 1976; Gon- Figure 2 is a generalized representation of the ge-
zalez de Juana et al., 1980; Bellizzia and Pimen- ology of northwestern South America expressed in
tel, 1981; Kellogg, 1981; Audemard, 1991; Beltran, terms of lithotectonic and morphostructural units.
1993; Lugo and Mann, 1995; Caribbean Re- For clarity, we define lithotectonic units to be those
gion: Burke et al., 1984; Pindell et al., 1988; Mann, geologic domains sensu lato that are generated in a
1995. particular tectonic environment or deformed by a
818 / Cediel et al.

Figure 2. Lithotectonic and morphostructural map of northwestern South America. GS = Guiana Shield; GA = Garzon
massif; SP = Santander massif Serrana de Perija; ME = Sierra de Merida; SM = Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; EC =
Eastern Cordillera; CO = Carora basin; CR = Cordillera Real; CA-VA = Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane; sl = San Lucas block; ib =
Ibague block; RO = Romeral terrane; DAP = Dagua-Pin on terrane; GOR = Gorgona terrane; CG = Can as Gordas terrane;
BAU = Baudo terrane; PA = Panama terrane; SJ = San Jacinto terrane; SN = Sinu terrane; GU-FA = Guajira-Falcon terrane;
CAM = Caribbean Mountain terrane; Rm = Romeral melange; fab = fore arc basin; ac = accretionary prism; tf = trench fill;
pd = piedmonte; 1 = Atrato (Choco) basin; 2 = Tumaco basin; 3 = Manab basin; 4 = Cauca-Pata basin; 5 = Upper
Magdalena basin; 6 = Middle Magdalena basin; 7 = Lower Magdalena basin; 8 = Cesar-Ranchera basin; 9 = Maracaibo
basin; 10 = Guajira basin; 11 = Falcon basin; 12 = Guarico basin; 13 = Barinas basin; 14 = Llanos basin; 15 = Putumayo-
Napo basin; Additional Symbols: PALESTINA = fault/suture system; red dot = Pliocene-Pleistocene volcano; Bogota =
town or city.
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 819

particular tectonic process. In contrast, morpho- certain degree of internal genetic history, especially
structural units are those physiographic regions that with respect to their Mesozoic-Cenozoic through
attain their particular topographic expression con- present geologic records. The Mesozoic-Cenozoic geo-
trolled by faults, folds, or geologic discordances. These logical history of the Northern Andean Block, charac-
regions often correspond to modern-day depressions terized by accretions, deformations, uplift, and mag-
or basins that lack sufficient surficial geologic ex- matism, is broadly coincident with what we will later
posure to allow the interpretation of subsurface ge- define as the Northern Andean orogeny.
ology beyond the Pleistocene (notwithstanding, this We now present background data and a working
underlying geology is often well documented by framework for Northern Andean assembly, based on
geophysical techniques, and it has been incorpo- our four composite tectonic realms. The importance
rated into our lithotectonic interpretations wher- of the individual lithotectonic units and their bound-
ever possible). Given the regional scale of geologic ing crustal-scale fault and fracture systems (Figure 2)
investigation undertaken herein, this lithotectonic- is emphasized.
morphostructural form of analysis allows us to dem-
onstrate more faithfully and with greater clarity the
various diagnostic geotectonic elements that com- Guiana Shield Realm (GSR)
prise the study area. At the same time, by defining This lithotectonic realm is comprised of the
various lithotectonic and morphostructural domains, autochthonous mass of the Precambrian Guiana
we derive a synthesis in terms of tectonic plates, sub- Shield (Priem et al., 1982; Figures 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). In
plates, terranes, and composite terranes. This anal- our study area, the western edge of the GSR extends
ysis contrasts with the general custom observed in throughout the subsurface of the Llanos, Guarico,
Northern Andean literature (e.g., Sillitoe et al., 1982; and Barinas-Apure basins of northeastern Colombia
Alvarez, 1983; Aspden et al., 1987; CODIGEM, and northwestern Venezuela. To the south, the GSR
1993a) of using major physiographic features such extends beneath the eastern foreland front of Co-
as cordilleras, serranas, valleys, or depressions as ge- lombias Eastern Cordillera, through to the Garzon
ologic reference points, thereby possibly incurring massif, and under the Putumayo basin. In Ecuador,
the false notion that, for example, a certain cordillera the GSR underlies the Putumayo-Napo basin, the
or depression today corresponds to a single lithotec- eastern margin of the Cordillera Real, and extends
tonic unit or represents a single geotectonic event. eastwards into the Amazon basin of both Colombia
Figure 2 outlines more than 30 individual litho- and Ecuador.
tectonic and morphostructural entities contained in The Guiana Shield formed the backstop for the
the Northern Andean Block, as derived from analy- progressive continental growth of northwestern
sis of the petrochemical, geophysical, stratigraphic- South America from the middle to upper Proterozoic
paleontological, radiometric, dynamostructural, and through to the Holocene. Outcrops of 1300 900 Ma
geomorphologic database for the region. The crustal- granulite document continental collision, penetra-
scale fault and fracture systems that delimit indi- tive deformation, and high-grade metamorphism dur-
vidual lithotectonic units have been documented ing the Grenville orogeny (see Restrepo-Pace, 1995,
clearly by geophysical and satellite-assisted studies. and reconstructions of Hoffman, 1991, and Hartnady,
Integrating the dynamics of tectonic assembly in the 1991). Description of the Grenville orogeny (locally
Northern Andean Block, our lithotectonic units (ter- referred to as the Orinoco orogeny by Cediel and
ranes, terrane assemblages, and subplates) may be Caceres, 2000) with respect to northwestern South
further grouped into larger, composite subdivisions America is presented in the section Pre-Andean
or what we have termed tectonic realms. Each tec- Orogenic Events, subsection Orinoco (Grenville)
tonic realm is distinguishable based on how its con- Collision Orogeny that follows.
tained lithotectonic units, as a whole, have partici- With respect to the formulative Mesozoic-Ceno-
pated in, have responded to, or are in the process of zoic through Recent tectonic history of the Northern
responding to the tectonic assembly of the region. Andean Block, the GSR has seen only local involve-
With respect to Mesozoic-Cenozoic (that is Northern ment. The Garzon massif (GA) consists of a structur-
Andean orogeny-related) tectonic developments, we ally exhumed block of the approximately 1200 Ma
have identified four such tectonic realms (Figure 2, granulite belt produced by the Grenville-Orinoco
inset). These four realms, although internally heter- orogeny, and thus indicates the approximate west-
ogeneous and geologically complex in nature, share a ern margin of the GSR. The Garzon massif contains
820 / Cediel et al.

Figure 3. West-east transect across the Colombian Andes. Modified after Restrepo-Pace (in Cediel and Caceres, 2000).
Principal sutures: 1 = Grenville (Orinoco) Santa Marta Bucaramanga Suaza faults; 2 = Ordovician-Silurian Palestina
fault system; 3 = Aptian Romeral-Peltetec fault system; 4 = Oligocene-Miocene Garrapatas-Dabeiba fault system; 5 = late
Miocene Atrato fault system. Abbreviations: K-wedge = Cretaceous wedge; CA-VA = Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane; MMB =
Middle Magdalena Basin; sl = San Lucas block; (Meta-)Sedimentary rocks: Pz = Paleozoic; K = Cretaceous; P = Paleogene;
N = Neogene.

sections of overlying Paleozoic and Triassic rocks CCSP underlies the entire central portion of the
and, on its southwestern margin, sedimentary rocks Northern Andes. In Colombia, the CCSP contains the
of the Upper Cretaceous. Proterozoic Chicamocha terrane (Figure 3), the Pa-
Note that the Maracaibo subplate (MSP, Figures 2 leozoic Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane (CA-VA), and the
and 4) also is underlain by the Guiana Shield. The Mesozoic San Lucas (sl) and Ibague (ib) blocks (all of
MSP is excluded, however, from the GSR as, based which, in turn, dominate the physiographic Central
on our analysis, it is contained in its own distinct Cordillera of Colombia). The lower, middle, and up-
tectonic realm (the Maracaibo subplate Realm), and per Magdalena basins and the geologic Eastern Cor-
will be discussed separately. dillera (EC) of Colombia also are included in the
CCSP. In Ecuador, the CCSP consists of the Paleozoic
Central Continental Subplate Realm (CCSP) Loja terrane (CODIGEM, 1993a; Litherland et al.,
This complex portion of the South American con- 1994), which is considered to form the southern ex-
tinental plate occupies a wedge located between the tension of the Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane. The Loja
Guiana Shield Realm and the Maracaibo subplate and terrane forms the basement complex to the Jurassic
Western Tectonic Realms (see Figures 2 and 3). The Salado terrane of Ecuadors Cordillera Real.

Figure 4. Northwest-southeast transect across the Maracaibo subplate. Abbreviations: C&R Basin = Cesar and Ranchera
basins; UPz = upper Paleozoic; LPz = lower Paleozoic; Jr = Jurassic; K = Cretaceous; P = Paleogene; N = Neogene.
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 821

Figure 5. West-east transect across the Ecuadorian Andes. Modified after National Geological Map of the Republic
of Ecuador, Ministerio de Recursos Naturales y Energeticos (CODIGEM, 1982). Principal sutures: 1 = Romeral-Peltetec
fault system; 2 = Cauca Pujil fault system. Pz = Paleozoic; K = Cretaceous; P = Paleogene; N = Neogene.

The CCSP is thus a composite, temporally and ta, Santander massif, and Garzon massif. The Chi-
compositionally heterogeneous lithotectonic realm. camocha terrane wedges out to the south near the
The Precambrian and Paleozoic constituents of the Colombia-Ecuador border.
CCSP are allochthonous to parautochthonous with The Chicamocha terrane is bound to the west by
respect to the Guiana Shield autochthon, while the the Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane (broadly, the Central
Mesozoic to Recent components are considered to Andean terrane of Restrepo-Pace, 1992), which out-
be parautochthonous to autochthonous with re- crops extensively in Colombias Central Cordillera
spect to the CCSP. The CCSP has played host to a and may be correlated with the Loja terrane of Lith-
plethora of complex geological events from the Pa- erland et al. (1994) in the Cordillera Real of Ecuador.
leozoic right up to the present. These events, detailed The Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane is composed of an
in Pre-Andean Orogenic Events, subsections Mid- association of pelitic and graphite-bearing schists,
dle Ordovician Silurian Cordilleran-type Orogeny amphibolites, intrusive rocks, and rocks of ophiolitic
and Bolivar Aulacogen, which follow, include a origin (olivine gabbro, pyroxenite, chromitite, and ser-
middle Ordovician Silurian Cordilleran-type oroge- pentinite), which attain greenschist through lower
ny followed by a period of prolonged taphrogenesis, amphibolite metamorphic grade. Geochemical analy-
which began in the Mississippian (?) and continued ses indicate these rocks are of intraoceanic-arc and
to the middle Mesozoic. The Mesozoic-Cenozoic continental-margin affinity (Restrepo-Pace, 1992).
transition to transpressional regimes, collisions, They form a parautochthonous accretionary prism of
and magmatism during the Northern Andean orog- Ordovician-Silurian age, sutured to the Chicamocha
eny defines the present tectonic character of the terrane in the north and directly to the Guiana Shield
CCSP. in the south, along the Palestina and Cosanga fault
The oldest constituent of the CCSP is the exotic systems, respectively (Figure 2 and 3; more details
Chicamocha terrane (CHA, Figure 3). This Precam- regarding the CA-VA are given in Pre-Andean Oro-
brian allochthon, a possible relict of the North Amer- genic Events, subsection Middle OrdovicianSilurian
ican plate, was welded to the Guiana Shield during Cordilleran-type Orogeny, that follows).
the Orinoco (Grenville) orogeny (Cediel and Caceres, The Triassic-Jurassic San Lucas and Ibague blocks
2000). It is represented by fragmented granulite- form a discontinuous belt along the Chicamocha
grade bodies of migmatite and quartz-feldspar gneiss, Cajamarca-Valdivia suture. They are dominated by
mostly outcropping along the eastern margin of Co- composite metaluminous, calc-alkaline, dioritic through
lombias Central Cordillera. Chicamocha terrane con- granodioritic batholiths and associated volcanic rocks,
tact with the Guiana Shield is defined by a belt of generated on a modified continental basement com-
exhumed 1300 900 Ma (Grenville-Orinoco) suture posed of the Chicamocha and Cajamarca-Valdivia ter-
granulites exposed in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Mar- ranes. These blocks formed thermal axes during the
822 / Cediel et al.

Triassic-Jurassic and subsequent basement swells, lo- acterized as the northwesternmost portion of the
cally affecting sedimentation during the Cretaceous. Guiana Shield, overlain in this region by extensive
The southern extension of this belt is found in the Phanerozoic supracrustal sequences. In the late Cre-
Cordillera Real (CR), which contains the Abitagua taceous, the MSP began to migrate northwestward
and Zamora Batholiths of broadly granitic and dio- (see figure 3 of Pindell, 1993) along the Santa Marta
ritic composition, respectively. These Jurassic meta- Bucaramanga and Oca El Pilar fault systems, in the
luminous plutons intrude the suture between the Loja process forming the Sierra de Merida, the Santander-
terrane and the Guiana Shield (Litherland et al., 1994). Perija belt, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
The geologic Eastern Cordillera (EC) overlies the Although technically a part of the Guiana Shield, the
Chicamocha terrane. It is unique in the context of MSP is distinguished from the GSR by a unique and
the entire Andean domain and has no geologic ana- regionally constrained style of deformation brought
log in Ecuador or elsewhere. The Eastern Cordillera about by the evolving Mesozoic-Cenozoic through
is an inverted sedimentary basin that records culmi- Recent interaction between the Pacific (Nazca), Carib-
nant, deep, crustal rifting in the CCSP and along the bean, and continental South American plates. The
continental margin of northwestern South America possible causes, timing, and mechanisms behind this
during the Late Jurassic to middle Cretaceous (Cediel migration will be discussed in Northern Andean
et al., 1994). This rifting resulted in the invasion of Orogeny, subsection Detachment and Migration
the Cretaceous seaway from the northwest and the of the Maracaibo subplate Realm.
deposition of thick sequences of predominantly Early
Cretaceous transgressive marine and lesser Cenozoic
continental strata (Cooper et al., 1995). Incipient basin Western Tectonic Realm (WTR)
inversion began in the Paleogene (Sarmiento, 2002) This lithotectonic realm (Figures 2, 3, 5, and 8)
and accelerated during the Late Miocene Pliocene. consists of three composite terrane assemblages.
Uplift mechanisms involved a unique form of trans- These include the Pacific (PAT) assemblage, which
pressive pop-up resulting from the combined tecton- contains the Romeral (RO), Dagua (DAP), and Gor-
ic movements of the Maracaibo subplate and Western gona (GOR) terranes. The Dagua terrane is correlated
Tectonic Realms (see section titled Northern Andean with the Pin on and Macuchi terranes (CODIGEM,
Orogeny, subsection Central Continental subplate 1993a; Litherland et al., 1994) of western Ecuador.
Realm: Internal Compensation). To the north, the WTR contains the Caribbean ter-
Additional punctuated, Mesozoic-Cenozoic, calc- ranes (CAT), including San Jacinto (SJ) and Sinu
alkaline magmatism affecting the Cajamarca-Valdi- (SN). Farther to the east, along the Caribbean coast,
via portion of the CCSP is recorded during the late the Guajira-Falcon (GU-FA) and Caribbean Moun-
Cretaceous, Paleogene, and Neogene. This magma- tain (CAM) terranes appear to represent tectonically
tism mostly was subduction related. Pliocene to Re- translated segments of the WTR. The northwestern
cent Andean-type volcanism presently forms a north- portion of the WTR consists of the Choco Arc (CHO),
northeast-trending belt of stratovolcanic cones strad- containing the Can as Gordas (CG) and Baudo (BAU)
dling the western margin of the CCSP in Colombia, terranes. The composite Pacific and Can as Gordas
south through to Ecuador (see Northern Andean assemblage form the Provincia Litosferica Oceanica
Orogeny, subsection Neotectonics of the Northern Cretacica del Occidente de Colombia or PLOCO
Andean Block, paragraph [g]). of Nivia (1996a); the Romeral, Dagua, San Jacinto,
and Sinu terranes roughly correspond to lithotec-
tonic units recognized by Etayo et al. (1983).
Maracaibo Subplate Realm (MSP) Despite important local data, complete character-
This realm consists of the entire Maracaibo sub- ization of individual terranes in the WTR, including
plate, the geological nature of which is revealed in the definition of their boundaries and time(s) of
Figures 2, 4, and 7. The MSP hosts numerous com- collision with the continent, remains deficient. Re-
posite lithotectonic provinces and morphostructural gardless, it is certain that all lithotectonic units in the
features, including the Sierra Nevada de Santa Mar- WTR contain fragments of Pacific oceanic plateaus,
ta (SM), the Sierra de Merida (ME, the Venezuelan aseismic ridges, intraoceanic island arcs, and/or
Andes), the Serrana de Perija and Santander mas- ophiolite. All developed in and/or on oceanic base-
sif (SP), and the Cesar-Ranchera and Maracaibo ment and, as demonstrated by paleomagnetic data
basins. From a geologic perspective, the MSP is char- and paleogeographic reconstructions (Estrada, 1995;
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 823

Cediel et al., 1994; Litherland et al., 1994), all are Ricaurte-Altaquer section of southwestern Colombia.
allochthonous with respect to continental South Spadea and Espinosa (1996) demonstrate a tholeiitic
America. Excluding the Caribbean assemblage, this to calc-alkaline affinity for the Ricaurte volcanics
assortment of terranes forms the traditionally termed that is more akin to oceanic island-arc compositions
geographic Western Cordillera of Colombia and and clearly dissimilar to the typical Dagua terrane
Ecuador; however, it is important to note that this basalts. Similarly, tholeiitic to calc-alkaline composi-
region has no geologic equivalent in the Western tions and island-arc-related models are presented by
Cordilleras of the Central Andes of Peru and Chile. Van Thournout et al. (1992) and Reynaud et al. (1999)
Pacific Terranes (Romeral, Dagua-Pin o n, for the San Lorenzo and Macuchi volcanics. Interca-
Gorgona): In the Pacific assemblage, the Romeral lated cherts in the Ricaurte-Altaquer section contain
terrane contains mafic-ultramafic complexes (e.g., Campanian radiolarian assemblages. Van Thournout
Nivia, 1996b), ophiolite sequences, and oceanic sed- et al. (1992) indicate an Eocene-Oligocene age for
iments of probable (late Jurassic?) early Cretaceous the Macuchi volcanics. These data suggest that fur-
age. The Romeral terrane may be traced southward ther differentiation of the San Lorenzo Ricaurte
into Ecuador where sporadic exposures of the litho- Macuchi volcanics from the Dagua-Pin on terrane is
logically and temporally equivalent Peltetec, El Toro, warranted. Reynaud et al. (1999) emphasize, how-
and Raspas units (CODIGEM, 1993a; Litherland et al., ever, that the details of oceanic terrane correlation in
1994) indicate that it underlies the western margin general between Ecuador and Colombia are not so
of the Cordillera Real and probably much of the easily resolved. Generally, small metaluminous (ap-
Inter-Andean depression (where exposure is limited proximately I-type) calc-alkaline plutons ranging from
because of thick Miocene and Pliocene to Recent tonalitic to granodioritic in composition and Paleo-
volcanic cover). cene to Miocene in age intrude the Dagua-Pin on ter-
To the west of the Romeral, the Dagua-Pin on rane along its entire length.
terrane is dominated by basaltic rocks of tholeiitic Farther west, the Gorgona terrane is located on the
MORB(mid-oceanic-ridge basalt)-type affinity, and westernmost margin of northwestern South America;
important thicknesses of flyschoid siliciclastic sedi- however, it is located mostly offshore. It also appears
ments, including chert, siltstone, and graywacke. to represent an accreted oceanic plateau. It contains
Studies presented by Ortiz (1979), Van Thournout massive basaltic flows, pillow lavas, komatiitic lava
et al. (1992), Kerr et al. (1996a), and Reynaud et al. flows, and a peridotite-gabbro complex (Echevarra,
(1999) indicate that the chemical characteristics of 1980; Kerr et al., 1996b; McGeary and Ben-Avraham,
the Dagua-Pin on basalts are totally unlike those of 1989), and it has been assigned a Late Cretaceous age.
island arc or marginal basin basalts (Kerr et al. The Caribbean Terranes (San Jacinto, Sinu ):
1996a, p. 111). Thus, these basalts appear to represent With respect to the Caribbean assemblage, petro-
accreted fragments of oceanic crust, aseismic ridges, chemical and paleomagnetic data for contained
and/or oceanic plateaus. Broad lithotectonic (litho- oceanic-volcanic rocks (Kerr et al., 1996a; MacDo-
logic, petrochemical, and sedimentological) correla- nald and Opdyke, 1972) indicate that they are alloch-
tion between the Dagua and the Pin on terrane of thonous. Paleomagnetic data for the Coniacian Finca
western Ecuador is observed (CODIGEM, 1993a), and Vieja Formation in the San Jacinto terrane indicate a
the Pin on terrane is included in our Dagua terrane provenance to the southwest ( J. Brock and H. Duque,
designation and nomenclature. Aspden and McCourt personal communication, 1986). This is supported
(1986) published a middle to late Cretaceous K-Ar by the petrochemical analyses of Kerr et al. (1996b),
age for low-K basalts of the Dagua terrane, which which suggest that the volcanic sequences of the Pa-
correlates well with numerous middle to late Creta- cific Dagua-Pin on terrane and the southern Carib-
ceous paleontological dates from both Colombia and bean basalts in general, belong to the same volcanic
Ecuador (Etayo and Rodrguez, 1985; Reynaud et al., province.
1999). Reynaud et al. (1999) note that Pin on tho- To the northwest of the San Jacinto terrane, the
leiites have produced locally K-Ar dates as old as magnetic basement of the Sinu terrane presents
123 Ma. a unique, northwest-oriented, strike-slip-dominated
Also included along the westernmost portion of structural pattern. This pattern is reflected in surface
the Dagua-Pin on terrane are the petrochemically dis- mapping and is clearly distinct from the generally
tinct volcanic rocks of the San Lorenzo and Macu- northeast structural trend of the San Jacinto (Cediel
chi assemblages of northwestern Ecuador and the and Caceres, 2000). The oldest recognized sedimentary
824 / Cediel et al.

rocks in the Sinu terrane are Oligocene in age, and is presented in Figures 6a and 6b, based on the geo-
those of the San Jacinto are Paleocene. physical modeling of Bosch and Rodrguez (1992).
The Choco Arc (Can as Gordas and Baudo The composite character of the Guajira-Falcon ter-
terranes): The composite Choco Arc assemblage rane was produced when, following the middle Cre-
represents the eastern segment of the Panama Dou- taceous accretion of the Romeral terrane (see below),
ble Arc (the western segment of which is the Central the passage of the GU-FA assembled slivers of Pa-
American Chorotega Arc). The Choco Arc maintains cific oceanic crust and continental remnants of the
a radius and vergence oriented northeast, and the separation of the North and South American plates.
Chorotega Arc maintains an approximately north- Based on facies associations and contained fossil
directed vergence. The two terranes that comprise record, the Jurassic sequences of the GU-FA appear
the Choco Arc, the Can as Gordas and Baudo, were to correlate with contemporaneous deposits pres-
recognized and described by Etayo et al. (1983) and ently exposed in the Yucatan Peninsula (Pindell,
Duque-Caro (1990). Can as Gordas is comprised of 1993). Paleomagnetic studies presented by MacDo-
a bipartite oceanic volcano-sedimentary sequence nald and Opdyke (1972) indicate that volcanic out-
of middle to Late Cretaceous age, the basaltic to crops of the GU-FA from their Guajira and Greater
andesitic-dominated portion of which exhibits clear Antilles sites occupied latitudes about 108 south of
volcanic-arc to continental-margin affinity (Ortiz, their present positions, and possibly off northwest-
1979). The Can as Gordas terrane is intruded along its ern South America in the Cretaceous. Detailed pet-
eastern margin by the 99 to 112 Ma (Alvarez, 1983) rographic studies of the Margarita Complex portion
Sabanalarga Batholith; on the western margin, it is of the GU-FA terrane by Stoeckhert et al. (1995), in
intruded by the approximately 53 Ma Mande-Acand addition to studies by Maresch et al. (2000), demon-
magmatic arc. These elongate composite calc-alka- strate an accretionary-metamorphic history and mi-
line batholiths of tonalitic to quartz dioritic and gratory path beginning in the Albian for this het-
granodioritic composition are the products of vol- erogeneous association of rocks from the Pacific to
canic-arc magmatism generated on oceanic crust. their present position.
They were intruded into the Can as Gordas terrane The Caribbean Mountain terrane is dominated by
prior to its accretion to the continental block. Cretaceous oceanic lithologies. Recent studies of the
The Baudo segment of the Choco Arc is dominated CAM, in particular those involving the petrographic
by upper Cretaceous to Paleogene-aged sequences of characterization and origin of the Villa de Cura klippe
tholeiitic basalt with minor interbedded pyroclastic (Smith et al., 1999), indicate marked lithologic sim-
and siliciclastic strata, including turbidites and cherts. ilarities between this klippe and the Romeral terrane
MORB affinity, suggesting oceanic plateau prove- and between the Cordillera de la Costa and the Ro-
nance, is clearly demonstrated for the volcanic rocks meral melange. The Caribbean Mountain terrane was
of this terrane (Goossens et al., 1977). obducted onto the Maracaibo subplate during the
Guajira-Falcon and Caribbean Mountain Eocene. Maresch (1974) proposed an allochthonous
Terranes: Based on similarities in age, composition, model for the CAM, which, if correct, indicates that
and tectonic setting, we consider the Guajira-Falcon it probably represents a decoupled and obducted
and Caribbean Mountain terranes to represent a dis- slice of the Guajira-Falcon terrane. The present posi-
rupted, northeast-translated segment of the WTR, tion of the GU-FA and CAM is an important testi-
presently situated in the Caribbean along the coast of mony to the emplacement of the Caribbean plate, an
western Venezuela, and physically separate from the emplacement history in which the Romeral-Peltetec,
main Pacific-Caribbean-Choco assemblages (Figure 2). San Jacinto, and Oca El Pilar fault systems, as de-
The composite Guajira-Falcon terrane is comprised scribed below, have played a critical role.
of a collection of fragments of Proterozoic and Pa-
leozoic continental crust, Jurassic sedimentary se- Fault Systems: Nature and Evolving History
quences, and Cretaceous oceanic crust accumulated Northwestern South America is a mosaic of al-
during the process of emplacement of the Caribbean lochthonous, parautochthonous, and autochthonous
plate. Our GU-FA contains the vaguely defined crustal segments, as defined by individual lithotec-
Southern Caribbean Deformed Belt of Ladd et al. tonic units, terrane assemblages, and tectonic realms.
(1984) who interpret this melange in terms of slices It follows that the interactive nature and timing of
of oceanic crust contained in pre-Paleogene struc- movements between these tectonic building blocks
tures. Better definition of this lithotectonic mixture is recorded, in large part, by bounding crustal-scale
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 825

commentary regarding the

nature and age of the Boco-
no (Sierra de Merida), El Tigre
(Serrana de Perija), Oca, and
Bucaramanga Santa Marta
fault systems was presented
by Shagam (1975). Similar
analysis of the regional im-
portance of the Palestina and
surrounding faults of the
CA-VA terrane (Central Cor-
dillera) was amply discussed
by Feininger (1970). Ego and
Sebrier (1995) presented de-
tailed analysis of the Rom-
Figure 6. Tectonic setting of the composite Guajira-Falcon (GU-FA) terrane assem- eral and Cauca fault systems.
blage. (6a) Principal structures: SCF = South Caribbean fault; OFS = Oca fault system;
CAM = Caribbean Mountain terrane; Light shadow area = Guiana Shield; Dotted area =
Notwithstanding, analysis of
GU-FA; P67-P68-P69 = geophysical profiles; Contours = depth to Moho discontinuity surficial geological features
in kilometers. (6b) Modeled north-south geophysical profile P68 (gravity, seismic, in the region permits the
magnetics) for the GU-FA: M = mantle; CO = continental crust; CA = Caribbean recognition of relatively few
crust; I = igneous paleoarc; T = tectonized metasediments and metavolcanics; S = Mesozoic-Cenozoic paleostruc-
sediments; W = seawater. Redrawn after Bosch and Rodrguez (1992).
tural events. In contrast, the
geologic record conserved in
breaks, sutures, faults, and fracture systems. Now, as Cretaceous and Cenozoic sedimentary basins, as re-
with the tectonic realms described above, we present a vealed by geophysical studies (e.g., Cediel et al., 1998)
resume of the important structures involved in the and gravity anomaly interpretations, permits the anal-
tectonic assembly of the Northern Andean Block. ysis and interpretation of subcropping faults and folds
Faulting in the Northern Andes is abundant and and buried deformational events. These subsurface
complex. Since early contributions by Rod (1956), data form an important part of our current inter-
Feininger (1970), Vasquez and Dickey (1972),and pretations. The following fault inventory updates
Moody (1973), the importance of large-scale strike- and expands available information, especially with
slip faulting, in particular, has been recognized, not respect to the major structures of the Western Tec-
only in terms of a dominant structural style, but as a tonic Realm. All of the faults discussed below, with
key element in the tectonic evolution of the region. their associated sense of movement, are depicted in
Today, with the help of seismic, gravimetric, and Figure 2.
magnetic modeling, and through the analysis of Neo-
gene basins and advanced geologic mapping, the trace
and character of many onshore faults of the Northern BucaramangaSanta Marta Fault System
Andean Block can be correlated (and even connected) This system was active during the Grenville-
with offshore transcurrent structures or identified as Orinoco continental collision and forms the north-
paleosutures. Tens of kilometers or more of predom- ern portion of the paleosuture that welded the Chi-
inantly lateral tectonic displacement is commonly re- camocha terrane of the CCSP to the Guiana Shield.
vealed along many of these onshore structures, gener- The structure was reactivated in the Aptian-Albian
ated by a complimentary mechanism to that known (Cediel et al., 1994) and presently forms the active
as spreading, subduction, obduction, or transcurrent western boundary of the Maracaibo subplate as de-
movement in the oceanic regime. Many of the struc- fined above (Figures 2 and 7). Structural restoration
tures in the Northern Andean Block have prolonged, along the southern termination of the fault reveals
polyphase histories, and exhibit, over time, multiple left-lateral displacement on the order of 40 km (Toro,
movement vectors. 1990), although total displacement of more than
Combined field and remote sensing studies have 100 km previously has been proposed (Campbell, 1968;
been essential to understanding Northern Andean Etayo and Rodrguez, 1985). Movement along the
structure. Excellent field-based documentation and Bucaramanga fault (and its northwestward extension,
826 / Cediel et al.

Bucaramanga fault, has been

invoked to explain deforma-
tional styles recorded in the
Santander massif (Restrepo-
Pace, 1995).
The aforementioned obser-
vations help to explain the co-
pious quantity of seismic ac-
tivity recorded in the seismic
nest of Bucaramanga, delin-
eating movements that iden-
tify the zone as one of tecton-
ic detachment associated with
migration of the Maracaibo
subplate in a northwesterly
direction. This interpretation
closely coincides with the
Modele Plastique proposed
by Rivera (1989) , as derived
from detailed analysis of the
seismic nest. Based on his
analysis of seismic informa-
tion, Rivera refutes the inter-
pretation of a Caribbean plate
Figure 7. Gravimetric expression of the Maracaibo subplate. Gravity and isopach
contours demonstrate tectonic control of the geometry of Aptian-Albian and Paleo- subducting from the north-
cene sedimentation by the Merida Arch. The geometry, orientation, and persistence west, as presented by Kellogg
of the Merida Arch resulted from transpressive stresses exerted along the bounding and Bonini (1982), and con-
margins of the MSP as a result of strike-slip movement along the Bucaramanga Santa cludes that . . .les explications
Marta (BFS) and Oca El Pilar (OFS) fault systems. Additionally, note the high positive- donnees pour le phenomene ont
gravity anomaly beneath the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, at the apex of the MSP,
toujours ete plutot artificielles et
attesting to the lack of isostatic equilibrium and relatively recent age of forced un-
derthrusting of Caribbean crust in this region. Compiled from Zambrano et al. (1969), fondees sur des hypotheses non
Bonini et al. (1977), and Geotec (1996). ve rifiables. (c.f.,. . .[past]
explanations accounting for
the [observed seismic] phe-
the El Carmen fault, see Figure 2), resulted in oblique- nomena have been somewhat artificial and based
normal uplift to the immediate east in the Santan- on non-verifiable hypotheses. [Rivera, 1989, p. 140]).
der massif. This uplift continued farther east but was The Bucaramanga fault exhibits deep crustal pen-
transformed into predominantly thrust-induced thick- etration, as would be expected of a paleosuture. Seis-
ening in the Serrana de Perija, a process that began mic studies by Schneider et al. (1987) in the seismic
in the Miocene. The Bucaramanga fault remains an nest of Bucaramanga led these workers to conclude
active structure, as demonstrated by geomorpholog- that the zone is in the process of tapping deep crustal-
ical analysis along its surface trace and geophysical or upper-mantle-derived magmas. Magmatism, in
studies of Coral and Sarmiento (1986) related to the fact, manifests above the buried trace of the Bucar-
seismic nest of Bucaramanga. These authors clearly amanga fault, to the south of the seismic nest of
demonstrate the relationship between this seismic Bucaramanga, as a series of rhyodacitic to rhyolitic
focal zone and activity in the horsetail faults that plugs of Pliocene-Pleistocene age which outcrop in
terminate in the region, in which the Santander fault the Paipa, Iza, and Quetame areas (Cediel and Ca-
also participates (Figure 2). The Santander fault con- ceres, 2000). These plugs are aligned along the
tinues to the north along the eastern flank of the portion of the paleosuture that connects the Bucar-
Serrana de Perija, where it is termed the El Tigre fault. amanga fault in the north with the Suaza fault (see
It is complementary to the Bucaramanga fault, also below) in the south. This buried segment of the su-
recording left-lateral movement, and, along with the ture is also reflected by the map depicting calculated
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 827

Figure 8. Geoseismic interpretation of Line 1 (MCS), Pacific offshore Colombia. Modified after Mountney and
Westbrook (1997). Note how activity along the Garrapatas fault controlled Miocene to Holocene sedimentation and
forearc basin development.

effective elastic thickness of the lithosphere in the OcaEl Pilar Fault System
Eastern Cordillera (Figure 9), as demonstrated by Discussions regarding this fault system were pres-
Sarmiento (2002). Additionally, the structure may be ented by Feo-Codecido (1972) , Vasquez and Dickey
interpreted from geophysical data presented by Ba- (1972), Tschanz et al. (1974), Macellari (1995), and
quero (1991) along an east-west section from the Giraldo (1996). If the paleoreconstruction presented
eastern flank of the Eastern Cordillera. in Figure 10a is valid, this system has been active
To the north, the Bucaramanga Santa Marta fault since the Late Triassic, and since then has constituted
system terminates at the intersection of the Oca El a plate boundary. Since the middle Cretaceous, it has
Pilar fault in lateral ramps that result in the stacking formed the northern boundary fault of the Mara-
of tectonic slices along the apex of the Santa Marta caibo subplate, and has exhibited right-lateral move-
thrust front (Figure 2). ment. Reconstructions of Maresch et al. (2000) sug-
gest transform capture of the RomeralSan Jacinto
Suaza Fault System systems during emplacement of the Caribbean plate
This composite fault system coincides with a more in the Paleocene. The Oca El Pilar system developed
southerly segment of the Grenville-Orinoco conti- a major shear zone, best observed in the Eocene,
nent-continent suture, and hence delimits the south- along which basic and later acidic magmatism was
eastern margin of the Chicamocha terrane (and CCSP) emplaced. Numerous faults comprise the OcaEl Pilar
from the Guiana Shield farther east. As noted, the system along its length. The Oca fault alone presents
principal fault connects with the Bucaramanga right-lateral displacement estimated at between 65
Santa Marta system in the subsurface of the Eastern and 195 km. In the Eocene, the system also acted as a
Cordillera. Neogene reactivation of the Suaza fault hinge mechanism that permitted the development
exhumed granulites of the Garzon massif during re- of a foreland basin along the front of the Maracai-
gional dextral transpression (Van der Wiel, 1991). bo basin (Lugo and Mann, 1995). Dextral-oblique
Reactivation was accompanied by a series of subsid- obduction of the Caribbean Mountain terrane (the
iary right-lateral oblique thrust faults (the Algeciras Villa de Cura klippe of Smith et al., 1999) took place
fault system of Velandia et al., 2001), which served as along this structure.
ramp structures for later-phase detachments in the
region (e.g., Fabre, 1995; Guillande, 1988). To the Bocono Fault
north ,the subsidiary Neogene system may terminate This fault deserves special attention in our regional
in a series of thrusts south of Villavicencio, or it may tectonic analysis, primarily because recent studies
continue in the subsurface and connect with faults of (e.g., Taboada et al., 2000; Sarmiento, 2002) have
the Ro Meta system (Figure 2). This second possibil- ignored seminal past works (e.g., Shagam, 1975) that
ity is suggested by seismic information collected to demonstrate its important characteristics. Early
the south and southeast of Villavicencio that docu- (Pennsylvanian?) normal movements, which con-
ments subsurface structures with the same strike and trolled sedimentation during the late Paleozoic, were
right-lateral character. inverted beginning in the late Cretaceous, and the
828 / Cediel et al.

Miocene-aged movement
responsible for uplift in the
Sierra de Merida.

Llanos Fault System

This generalized term re-
fers to the group of faults
forming the foothills thrust
front that placed the East-
ern Cordillera over the fore-
land sequences of the Llanos
basin. Many past simpli-
fications erroneously inter-
preted the system as a sin-
gle structure that limited the
foothills to the east, and to
which a supposed right-lat-
eral displacement was as-
signed (the so-called Guai-
caramo fault). Recent ge-
ologic mapping along the
foothills of the Eastern Cor-
dillera (Geotec, 1996), con-
trolled by numerous seismic
profiles, demonstrates that
the Llanos system is com-
posed of at least three major
thrust fronts manifesting
from south to north, with a
consistent, generally north-
east-directed vergence (Fig-
ures 2 and 3).

Palestina Fault System

Figure 9. Deep structure of central Colombia. Moho depth and lithospheric effective
elastic thickness (after Sarmiento, 2002) derived from combined gravity and geo- This polyphase fault sys-
physical modeling. Abbreviations: LL = Llanos basin, ME = Sierra de Merida; SP = tem includes the principal
Santander massif Serrana de Perija; EC = Eastern Cordillera; RO = Romeral terrane;Palestina fault and a series of
CG = Can as Gordas terrane; SJ = San Jacinto terrane. Fault systems 1 through 6 correlative structures mapp-
represent sutures. ed to the south, including
the Chapeton-Pericos, Ibague,
structure was converted into one of the northwest- and Cucuana faults. These structures form the east-
verging thrust faults that define the general structure ern limit of the Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane (Figure 2)
of the Sierra de Merida (Giegengack, 1984), particu- and are considered to constitute a suture between the
larly along its southern segment. Schubert (1980) CA-VA and the Chicamocha terrane, which was ac-
provides clear evidence demonstrating right-lateral tive during the middle to late Paleozoic (Figure 3).
fault reactivation in the Pliocene. Assuming a con- In Ecuador, a similar suture appears, represented
stant rate of displacement estimated from current by the Cosanga (Llanganates?) fault that places
rates, he indicates that reactivated dextral displace- the Loja terrane in contact with the Guiana Shield
ment along the Bocono fault could be on the order (CODIGEM, 1993a; Litherland et al., 1994). With
of 20 to 40 km. Dextral reactivation thus postdates respect to the Palestina system, the timing of re-
the majority of thrust-controlled, northwest-vergent activation cannot be established precisely but was
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 829

likely initiated in the Aptian-

Albian and probably is most-
ly late Cretaceous (Feininger,
1970). Three common fea-
tures characterize the faults
of the Palestina system: (1)
all demonstrate right-lateral
strike-slip movement; (2) all
present evidence of extensive
shearing, including mylo-
nites, fault gouge, fault brec-
cias, and the presence of sliv-
ers of exotic-rock types; and
(3) all verge and connect
toward the south with the
Romeral fault system (the pa-
leocontinent margin), which
also is right-lateral and of Figure 10. Sequential paleotectonic reconstruction of continental northwestern South
Aptian-Albian age. Given these America and surrounding Pacific and Caribbean regions. (10a) Upper Triassic. (10b)
Jurassic. Adapted after Pindell et al. (1988) and Cediel et al. (1994). Details regarding
observations, reactivation of offshore terranes (Mexican, Yucatan, Santiago) are supplied by Pindell et al. (1988).
the Palestina system appears
to be linked to activity along
the Romeral-Peltetec fault (see below). Calculation (1996) grouped disparate lithologic entities into the so-
of horizontal displacement, estimated at 28 km, has called Arqua and Quebrada Grande complexes; how-
been presented only for the Palestina fault (Feinin- ever, based on existing data, they were not able to
ger, 1970). define clearly the geologic limits between these two
complexes. Litherland et al. (1994) observed field
RomeralPeltetec fault systems exposures of Peltetec ophiolite in tectonic contact to
These important fault systems originate in south- the east and west, respectively, with their Jurassic
western Ecuador, where they are mapped as the Guamote and Aldao terranes of the Cordillera Real.
Peltetec-(Giron)-Portovelo faults (CODIGEM, 1993a, Outcrops showed features of a tectonic melange,
b). They extend northward into central Colombia and they note that blocks of the Aldao terrane ac-
and, along their entire length, mark the suture trace tually may have come from the Peltetec belt. It is
of accreted Jurassic (?) and Cretaceous-aged alloch- noteworthy that the Peltetec fault-melange of Ecuador
thonous lithotectonic assemblages with the CCSP is, in reality, quite poorly exposed, being blanketed
Guiana Shield cratonic margin (Figures 2, 3, and 5). mostly by Miocene and Pliocene through Recent
In Colombia, this continental margin is defined volcanic cover along the Inter-Andean depression
clearly by geophysical profiles that demonstrate the and Cordillera Real. The same is true in southern-
absence of continental basement from the Romeral- most Colombia, south and west of Pasto.
Peltetec fault system westward (Cediel et al., 1998). With respect to the Romeral-Peltetec fault system,
Existing data and interpretations indicate that it is clear that the correct interpretation depends in
the reality of the Romeral-Peltetec fault systems and large part on the response to various key questions,
accompanying Romeral and Peltetec melanges is for example:
anything but simple. This more than 1000-km-long
tectonic suture and melange contains intensely 1) Is the Romeral-Peltetec melange the result of in
deformed and fragmented tectonic blocks of high- situ deformation and fragmentation of an accre-
pressure metamorphic rocks (eclogite, blueschist), tionary prism in which the observed eclogites
layered mafic and ultramafic complexes, volcanic and glaucophane schists have been exhumed
rocks and ophiolite, and marine meta-sediments dat- during subsequent Andean orogenic events?, or
ing from the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous. Pres- 2) Does the melange contain allochthonous frag-
ented with the impossibility of defining conventional ments generated in an intra-oceanic subduction
lithologic units in the Romeral melange, Nivia et al. zone?
830 / Cediel et al.

The correct reply presently is not obvious; howev- Cediel et al. (1994), and Maresch et al. (2000) dem-
er, general observations suggest a tectonic history onstrate a Mesozoic-Cenozoic plate movement his-
involving both possibilities. For example, in the tory that links the transpressive strike-slip history
Romeral melange are abundant fragments of lower of the Romeral-Peltetec and San Jacinto faults with
Paleozoic schists and occasional fragments of Protero- the transform east-west growth of the Oca El Pilar
zoic gneiss (Arqua Complex?), rocks characteristic system. This history documents the passage of the
of Mesozoic-Cenozoic autochthonous continental Caribbean plate along the northern margin of the
margin. However, geochemical interpretation of ba- South American craton during the Cretaceous-
saltic andesites spatially associated with metamor- Cenozoic.
phic rocks and ultramafic rocks from the Peltetec belt In the late Neogene, obduction of the Can as Gor-
typify them as mixed assemblages of calc-alkaline, das terrane in northwest Colombia truncated the
supra-subduction zone volcanics, and MORB (oce- southern San Jacinto system and structurally de-
anic crust) lithologies (Litherland et al., 1994), which formed the faults of the Romeral-Peltetec system.
could have formed in an intraoceanic arc environ- These observations explain the chaotic rotation of
ment. These and other data (Nivia et al., 1996) con- volcanic bodies and pull-apart structures identified
firm that no relationship exists between the melange by MacDonald (1980) and MacDonald et al. (1993).
volcanics and ophiolites and the clearly allochtho-
nous mafic volcanic sequences of the Dagua (Pin on-
Macuchi) terrane to the west. Cauca Fault System
Large-scale right-lateral strike-slip movement along The Cauca fault system forms a suture between the
the Romeral-Peltetec fault system is well document- Romeral and Dagua-Pin on oceanic terranes of the
ed (Hutchings et al., 1981; Ego and Sebrier, 1995). Pacific terrane assemblage. In Colombia, the Cauca
CODIGEM (1993b) and Litherland et al. (1994) note system outcrops along almost its entire length and
evidence for dextral movements along the Peltetec, thus is cartographically well defined. The generally
Portovelo, and associated faults. Timing of this move- right-lateral strike-slip character of the fault (Ego and
ment is an important facet of Northern Andean Sebrier, 1995) varies along strike, and the dextral
Mesozoic-Cenozoic evolution and will be discussed component can only be inferred at some localities.
in detail below. The Cauca system appears to correlate with the dex-
tral Pujil-Pallatanga system to the south in Ecuador
(Van Thournout et al., 1992; CODIGEM, 1993b). In-
San Jacinto Fault System (Romeral North) terpretation is inhibited to some degree by defor-
Along strike to the north, closely coincident with mation and abundant recent volcanic cover that
the bend in the paleocontinental margin at the distort and mask the faults component structures
northwest corner of the South American craton, im- south of Pasto and along the Inter-Andean depres-
portant changes in style and associated character- sion. Regardless, occurrences of ophiolite along the
istics are observed in the Romeral-Peltetec system, fault to the southwest of Quito (e.g., the Pujil ophi-
and the structure merges into the San Jacinto fault. olite; Litherland et al., 1994) suggest the structures
In contrast to the Romeral-Peltetec system, the San original role as a suture.
Jacinto fault reveals no evidence of an associated In Colombia, seismic profiles of the Cauca fault
tectonic melange, and no indications of subduction- system from the Cauca-Pata basin indicate the
related magmatism are found along its trace. Struc- dominance of west-verging thrust displacement in
tures associated with the San Jacinto system record the subsurface (Cediel et al., 1998; Figure 2). This
the relatively clean dextral-oblique accretion of the interpretation is corroborated by the observed thrust
Caribbean San Jacinto and later Sinu terranes (Figure 2) emplacement of Paleozoic Cajamarca-Valdivia
to the continental margin. The surface trace of the schists (of the Romeral melange) over siltstone and
San Jacinto system is not always observed easily. shale of the Oligocene Esmita Formation near Al-
Seismic, gravimetric, and magnetic modeling, how- maguer (R. Shaw, unpublished data). These observa-
ever, reveal clear differences in basement composi- tions contrast markedly with the traditional inter-
tion on either side of the fault and thus delineate its pretation of the region as an arc-axial depression or
path with ample clarity. The northernmost exten- structural graben (e. g., Sillitoe et al., 1982; Aspden
sion of the San Jacinto fault intersects the east-west- et al., 1987). Thrust faults in the seismic profiles are
striking, dextral Oca El Pilar system. Pindell (1993), observed to truncate middle Miocene hypabyssal
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 831

intrusive bodies, implying late or post-Miocene ical profiles of the Atrato (Choco) basin (Cediel et al.,
reactivation of the Cauca system. 1998). It is composed of a series of east-verging en
echelon rotated thrust faults related to Miocene-
Macay and Buenaventura Fault Systems Pliocene northeasterly to easterly convergence and
The Macay fault system is developed in the Dagua- rotation of the Choco Arc. The Atrato fault system
Pinon terrane. Complete characterization of the fault facilitated the obduction of the Baudo terrane over
remains deficient because of a lack of geologic the western margin of the Can as Gordas terrane and,
mapping and sparse geophysical data. Regardless, it as such, is considered a suture (Figure 3).
generally consists of a series of west-verging trans-
pressive thrusts that can be interpreted to correlate
with lateral displacements along the Cauca and Bue- PRE-ANDEAN OROGENIC EVENTS
naventura faults. The Macay fault may correlate with
the Maldonado-Guayaquil system of western Ecua- The present lithotectonic and morphostructural
dor (CODIGEM, 1993a, b), or it may originate in the expression of the Northern Andean Block is primar-
Ecuador-Colombia trench, parallel to the Buenaven- ily a result of what may be termed the Mesozoic-
tura fault. Cenozoic Northern Andean orogeny. Regardless, it
The Buenaventura fault is perhaps the feature is apparent that the pre-Andean tectonic history of
most difficult to observe in surface trace. It is easily northwestern South America has played an impor-
recognized, however, on regional magnetic and grav- tant and pre-determinative role in the development
ity maps where it manifests as a rectilinear northeast- of Northern Andean orogenic systematics. Here we
trending lineament. Movement is interpreted as present a brief review of the three key orogenic
dextral transpressive (Figures 2). The fault coincides events observed to predate Northern Andean phase
with the suture trace delimiting the boundary be- orogenic activity. This review will provide increased
tween the Gorgona and Dagua-Pin on terranes of the understanding of the evolutionary history of the
composite Pacific terrane assemblage. lithotectonic units, composite terrane assemblages,
tectonic realms, and fault and suture systems pres-
Garrapatas-Dabeiba Fault System ently incorporated in the Northern Andean Block.
Barrero (1977) suggested that the Garrapatas fault
represents a paleotransform in the Farallon plate Orinoco (Grenville) Collision Orogeny
that behaved in a strike-slip manner during the late The Orinoco (Grenville) collision orogeny, referred
MesozoicCenozoic. This major break in the oceanic to regionally as the Orinoco orogeny by Cediel and
crust forms the principle boundary fault between the Caceres (2000), is the result of the collision approx-
Pacific terrane assemblage to the south (Mountney imately 1200 Ma of the North American continental
and Westbrook 1997; see Figure 8) and the Choco Arc block with the Guiana Shield region of the continental
assemblage to the north. The early Garrapatas fault South American plate (Kroonenberg, 1984; see recon-
permitted the kinematically and temporally inde- structions in Hoffman, 1991 and Hartnady, 1991).
pendent interaction of the Pacific and Choco Arc Testimony of this collision is recorded in the ex-
assemblages with continental South America during humed portions of the granulite-grade metamor-
the early Northern Andean orogeny. More recently, phic belt presently exposed in the Garzon massif, the
the structure also may relate to one of the extinct Santander massif, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa
oceanic ridges contained in the Nazca plate (Figure 2). Marta. Granulite belt lithologies are dominated by
To the west, the fault joins with the present Ecuador- felsic, meta-pelitic, and meta-arenaceous gneisses
Colombia trench, along which the Nazca plate is and migmatites, for which combined K-Ar and Rb-Sr
subducting. Recent onshore mapping permits the metamorphic age dates range from 1200 to 800 Ma
interpretation of the Garrapatas fault as the southern (Tschanz et al., 1974; Kroonenberg, 1984; Restrepo-
lateral ramp that, in combination with the Dabeiba Pace, 1995). An embedded fragment of the North
fault to the north, has facilitated the obduction of American plate, sutured to the South American plate
the Can as Gordas terrane (Figure 3). during this collision (Cediel and Caceres, 2000), is
herein designated the Chicamocha terrane. This
Atrato Fault System paleoallochthonous wedge underlies the eastern
The Atrato fault system is developed in the Baudo half of the Central Continental subplate (CCSP, see
terrane and is well recognized in subsurface geophys- Figure 3) and may be considered analogous to the
832 / Cediel et al.

Arequipa terrane exposed along the coast of south- northwestern South America is unfounded and is
ern Peru (Dalmayrac et al., 1977). more an artifact of the mechanisms behind regional
metamorphism in general than a reflection of the
Middle OrdovicianSilurian existence of multiple events. For example, in the East-
Cordilleran-type Orogeny ern Cordillera, weakly to nonmetamorphosed win-
During the early Paleozoic, the continental wedge dows of Ordovician-Silurian strata are observed. These
of the Chicamocha terrane and the western margin rocks preserve diagnostic marine fauna for identifica-
of the Guiana Shield comprised the subsiding base- tion and dating, and they can be correlated with lower
ment for extensive sequences of marine and epicon- greenschist rocks of the same age that exhibit the im-
tinental sediments deposited during the Ordovician print of regional metamorphism without having to
and Silurian. These supracrustal sequences under- evoke any major difference in overall tectonic his-
went Cordilleran-type orogenic deformation and re- tory. The concept of igneous-related low pressure
gional metamorphism during an event variably re- metamorphism recognized by Restrepo-Pace (1995,
corded as the Quetame orogeny in Colombia, the p. 27 28) in the Santander massif during the Late
Caparonensis orogeny in Venezuela, and the Ocloy Triassic Early Jurassic may be applied with equal va-
orogeny in Ecuador and Peru. In Colombia and Ec- lidity to help explain the provincial nature of Paleo-
uador, evidence for this extensive event includes the zoic regional metamorphism. A similar, although
fragments of ophiolite and accretionary prism ex- contrary, form of protolith preservation is observed
posed in the Cajamarca-Valdivia, Loja, and El Oro in the amphibolite-grade Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane
terranes. These lithotectonic units were intruded by to the west. Here, regional metamorphism of the
subduction-related granitoids (Restrepo-Pace, 1995) accretionary prism assemblage has left relicts of Ori-
and metamorphosed to lower amphibolite facies. The noco (Grenville)-aged granulite basement lodged and
Cajamarca-Valdivia (Loja) terrane was sutured to con- preserved in the amphibolite-grade metamorphic as-
tinental South America along a paleomargin that semblages of the Cajamarca and Valdivia groups
followed the approximate trace of the paleo-Palestina (Cediel and Caceres, 2000).
fault system and its southern extension in Ecuador, The molasse generated during the Ordovician-
approximated by the Cosanga fault (note that the Silurian Cordilleran-type orogeny manifests in Co-
modified trace of the Palestina system reflects reac- lombia as the Tibet Formation (continental facies)
tivation during the Mesozoic). The continuation of and the Floresta Formation (marine facies) and dem-
this suture into southern Ecuador can be inferred onstrates uplift that extended into the middle
based on occurrence of the pre-Jurassic Zumba ophi- Devonian. The severe deformation recorded during
olite (Litherland et al., 1994). Ordovician-Silurian tectonism in northwestern
Farther east (inland), this orogeny is recorded by a South America should be integrated into the paleo-
lower- to subgreenschist-grade metamorphic event geographic reconstructions and models of Ortega-
that affected the thick psammitic and pelitic Ordo- Gutierrez et al. (1999), which involve the tectonic
vician-Silurian supracrustal sequences. These meta- evolution of both North and South America during
morphosed sequences outcrop in the Eastern Cor- this time period.
dillera (Quetame group), the Santander-Perija belt The amphibolite-grade rocks of the Cajamarca-
(Silgara group), the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Valdivia terrane have been intruded by synkinematic
Sierra de Merida, and in the Cordillera Real (Chi- granitoids. Petrographically similar granitoids in-
guinda unit). They are correlated with penecontem- trude the Loja terrane and the El Oro metamorphic
poraneous strata that form the basal portion of the belt (the Tres Lagunas and Moromoro granites, re-
onlapping Paleozoic supracrustal sequences of the spectively) of Ecuador, where they have been studied
Maracaibo, Llanos, Barinas-Apure, and Putumayo- extensively by Litherland et al. (1994). These garnet-
Napo basins. bearing, two-mica intrusives clearly display per-
The low-grade, subgreenschist nature of the meta- aluminous (approximately S-type) petrochemistry.
morphism outlined above has led to problems in cor- They range from weakly to intensely deformed (mig-
relating this regional event and, in some instances, the matite, augen gneiss, and mylonite) and are ubiqui-
interpretation of multiple, more localized events (see tously metamorphosed to some degree. Applying
discussion and references in Restrepo-Pace, 1995). various radiometric dating techniques, Litherland
We feel that this apparent provinciality with respect et al. (1994) document widespread radiometric re-
to Ordovician-Silurian regional metamorphism in setting in these rocks and elect a Triassic age for the
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 833

Tres Lagunas, Moromoro, and similar granites. In- placed in the taphrogenic context of the Bolivar
terestingly, they interpret isolated Paleozoic U-Pb Aulacogen. This igneous activity is recorded in the
dates returned from rounded zircon grains of the Tres Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Santander massif of
Lagunas unit as inherited. Dating attempts for the the MSP (Tschanz et al., 1974; Do rr et al., 1995) and
Colombian analogs have returned similar broadly in the Segovia, Noros, Sonson, Ibague, Mocoa, Abi-
Triassic K-Ar ages that we, as do Litherland et al. tagua, and Zamora Batholiths of the CCSP (Sillitoe
(1994) consider to be reset. Based on the clearly et al., 1982; Alvarez, 1983; Litherland et al., 1994).
deformed and metamorphosed nature of these rocks, Petrochemical modeling of some of these intrusives
however, we favor a Paleozoic age and origin, distinct led Alvarez (1983) to conclude that, although they
from the relatively pristine metaluminous (approx- appeared to represent (modified) continental arc
imately I-type) intrusives of Triassic age (e.g., Mocoa magmatism, it was impossible, based on prelim-
Batholith, Sonson Batholith, and Santa Marta Bath- inary trace element analyses, to assign them to a
olith), which are observed locally in close association specific petrogenetic environment (Alvarez, 1983,
with the deformed and metamorphosed peralumi- p. 166). Data presented by Do rr et al. (1995) also
nous granitoids (Cediel and Caceres, 2000). The per- indicate clearly transitional island arc continental
aluminous granitoids appear to represent anatexis of arc geochemistry. We interpret this transitional data
lower crustal materials generated by tectonic thick- to reflect arc construction on the modified conti-
ening of the middle upper Paleozoic continental nental margin of our heterogeneous Central Con-
margin and were probably emplaced during the tinental subplate (including the Chicamocha and
Paleozoic. Cajamarca-Valdivia (Loja) terranes). The CCSP pres-
ents a continental margin wielding petrochemical
The Bolivar Aulacogen and geo-mechanical characteristics very different
The Bolivar Aulacogen is the name proposed by from those of a typical Proterozoic-aged autoch-
Cediel and Caceres (2000) in reference to the pro- thon. We envision a complex distribution of tem-
longed period of continental taphrogenesis sur- porally and geographically limited extensional (fore-
rounding northwestern South America and mostly arc and back-arc?) basins with localized, modified,
affecting our Central and Maracaibo subplates during continental-margin magmatic arcs coexisting in a
the late Paleozoic to middle Cretaceous. Figure 10 broadly (and ultimately) taphrogenic environment
depicts tectonic reconstructions for the Bolivar and forming on a markedly thinned, heterogeneous,
Aulacogen during the Late Triassic and Jurassic. This Proterozoic-Paleozoic metamorphic basement (mod-
extensional regime was initiated with the develop- ified after Cediel et al., 1994).
ment of an intercontinental rift and deposition of The Bolivar Aulacogen commenced in the Missis-
marine strata in the Pennsylvanian-Permian (Sierra sippian(?) and culminated in the Early to middle
de Merida, Eastern Cordillera). The extensional re- Cretaceous with the opening of the Valle Alto rift.
gime changed briefly to transpressive at the end of This last event was marked by deep continental
the Permian, as recorded by tight folds associated rifting, as evidenced by the emplacement of bimodal
with strike-slip faulting observed in the Sierra de alkalic-tholeiitic mafic magmatism (Fabre and Dela-
Merida (Marechal, 1983). Rifting resumed during the loye, 1983) and possibly the local formation of oce-
Triassic (Payande Formation; Senff, 1995; Figure 10a), anic lithosphere. The opening of the Valle Alto rift
and continued into the Early Jurassic (Morrocoyal facilitated the invasion of the Cretaceous epiconti-
rift; Geyer, 1973) and the Middle Jurassic (Siquisique nental seaway, which resulted in deposition of marine
rift; Bartok et al., 1985). In the Late Jurassic, extensive and epicontinental sequences of variable thicknesses
rifting is marked by deposition of the continental over extensive areas of the CCSP (including the
and volcaniclastic deposits of the Giron, La Quinta, Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane), the Maracaibo subplate,
Jordan, and Norean Formations (Cediel and Caceres, and the continental platform of the Guiana Shield.
2000). Litherland et al. (1994) interpret the Jurassic This culminant rifting event did not extend south into
Salado terrane of the Cordillera Real as also having Ecuador. Regional extension terminated in the middle
formed in an extensional basin setting over modified Cretaceous with the shift of tectonic regime to com-
continental basement (Litherland et al., 1994, p. 80, pressional, as registered by the regional erosional gap
figure 26a). observed in stratigraphy of the lower Aptian.
Important metaluminous (I-type) calc-alkaline The complexity of the Bolivar Aulacogen and the
magmatism of Triassic-Jurassic age also was em- late Paleozoic through Mesozoic tectonic history
834 / Cediel et al.

surrounding the Northern Andean Block is evident. American continental margin. The general confu-
However, the regional distribution of late Paleozoic, sion becomes apparent when, for example, penecon-
Triassic, and Jurassic volcanic-sedimentary rocks is temporaneous events during Eocene deformation are
increasingly better understood, and reinterpretation described in geographically separate portions of the
of the tectono-sedimentary significance of these Pacific and Caribbean margins, driven by apparently
deposits has been initiated. For example the Giron separate plate interactions, and affecting geograph-
molasse described by Cediel (1969) is now considered ically separate portions of the Northern Andes.
a syn-rift sequence. Similar revision of the flysch Which of these events, then, represents the Northern
deposits of the Sierra de Merida is in order, as is Andean orogeny? And if one or both of these events
substantial investigation regarding the tectonic set- may be considered to represent the Northern Andean
ting and timing of the Triassic-Jurassic calc-alkaline orogeny, to what orogeny shall other late Meso-
intrusives for which data is lacking, and large areas zoic-Cenozoic but pre-Eocene, as well as additional
(e.g., San Lucas block (sl), Figure 2) remain, in general, post-Eocene tectonic events (deformations, meta-
very poorly documented. morphism, uplift, and volcanism), be assigned?
Beginning in the middle Cretaceous, the Faral- Given that all of the orogenic events since the
lon and South American plates reorganized and transition from a generally extensional regime dur-
changed their drift direction and velocity. The re- ing the Bolivar Aulacogen to a compressive (trans-
sulting Mesozoic-Cenozoic oblique collisions, subduc- pressive) regime beginning in the Aptian-Albian and
tion and obduction, the birth of new oceanic plates up to the Holocene have been formulative in the
(Caribbean and Nazca-Cocos system), and the detach- present configuration of the Northern Andean Block,
ment of the continental Maracaibo subplate are but we have opted for the simplest solution; that is, to
some of the features that evolved from this reorga- refer to all of these temporally and geographically
nization and that characterize what is referred to isolated and disparate events as the Northern Andean
today as the Northern Andean orogeny. orogeny. In doing so, we emphasize, on one hand,
the complex, prolonged, and progressive regionally
THE NORTHERN ANDEAN OROGENY punctuated nature of Northern Andean Block tec-
tonic evolution; on the other, we emphasize the
Definition imperative need to approach the tectonic history of
Since approximately 1975, a proliferation of geo- northwestern South America from an integrated
physical investigations regarding the Caribbean re- perspective. We are treating the region as a whole
gion, and northwestern South America in general, and integrating all of the components of the North-
has been published (see, for example, the bibliogra- ern Andes from Ecuador to Venezuela into an in-
phy presented by Van der Hilst, 1990). In stark con- ternally coherent framework.
trast to the abundance of information generated in
the offshore realm, there exists an astonishing scar-
city of published geological-geophysical information Cordilleran-type Orogenies versus Plate Tectonics
from onshore. This is especially true in Colombia, the in the Northern Andes
geographic centerpiece of Northern Andean tectonic The lions share of debates in the literature re-
activity since the late Mesozoic. garding the Mesozoic-Cenozoic tectonic evolution of
One of the more confusing aspects of Northern the Northern Andean Block have centered on:
Andean Block literature has been the temporal and
spatial definition of the Northern Andean orogeny 1) explanations that can justify the presence or ab-
(e.g., Bu
rgl, 1967; Campbell, 1974; Irving, 1975). As sence of onshore (continental) magmatic-volcanic
we have demonstrated, the tectonic assembly of the arcs during determined time intervals, and
Northern Andean Block is characterized by a pro- 2) using petrological-geochemical methods to de-
longed, heterogeneous, regionally versus temporally fine and evaluate continental and island arcs and
punctuated series of orogenic events. These events oceanic plateaus and ridges that must, in one
record the interaction of no fewer than three distinct form or another, fit in the proposed model(s) for
tectonic plates: the South American, the Pacific (Far- Andean-type orogenesis. Considering the am-
allon-Nazca), and the Caribbean, the oceanic com- ple literature with which we are familiar, An-
ponents of which have acted to a large degree in- dean-type is, without exception, synonymous
dependently over time on their corresponding South with Cordilleran-type (Dewey and Bird, 1970)
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 835

orogenesis, and therefore is identified with well- et al. (1994), Litherland et al. (1994), and Cediel and
known subduction-driven models presented for Caceres (2000) all demonstrate the importance of
the Central Andes of, for example, Peru and dextral-oblique convergence in Northern Andean
Chile. Block reconstruction.
Age-dependent buoyancy of oceanic crust
Notwithstanding, as stressed in our introduction, versus subduction/collision dynamics: As
the particulars of oceanic-continental plate interac- reviewed above, the Pacific terranes are dominated
tions in the Northern Andean Block are quite distinct by igneous rocks of tholeiitic MORB affinity, inter-
from those of the Central Andes (for example, com- calated with flyschoid clastic sediments. Paleonto-
pare the idealized configurations of Stern (1998) with logical evidence and limited radiometric dating indi-
Aspden et al. (1987) and with our Figures 10 and 11). cate the majority of these rocks are Late(?) Jurassic-
As we summarize below, in the geographic region Early Cretaceous (Romeral terrane) and Early to late
surrounding northwestern South America, impor- Cretaceous (Dagua-Pin on and Gorgona terranes) in
tant parameters such as convergence angle, subduc- age. As will be detailed below, all of these terranes
tion angle, crustal density, and geographic position- collided with the South American continental mar-
ing between the oceanic Farallon-Nazca and Carib- gin during the Cretaceous-Cenozoic. Thus, based on
bean plates and continental South America have observations relating to the age-dependant buoy-
varied markedly since the Aptian. These variations ancy of oceanic crust with respect to subduction (e. g.
support Sterns conclusion that whereas the Chil- Molnar and Atwater, 1978; Stern, 1998), it is clear
ean-type subduction zone is reminiscent of the text- that the oceanic lithosphere impinging on and col-
book paradigm, such a subduction zone is neither liding with the South American continent during the
stable nor typical (Stern, 1998, p. 224). It thus be- Mesozoic-Cenozoic Northern Andean orogeny was
comes apparent that the interpretation of Northern not conducive to Andean-type subduction because
Andean tectonics in the context of any typical model of its relatively young age and, hence, hot and buoy-
for Central Andean oceanic-continental plate inter- ant nature. This non-conducive relationship was
action is destined to encounter overly simplified likely enhanced by the thickened (and, hence, addi-
results. A similar argument may be presented regard- tionally buoyant) nature of Farallon oceanic crust, as
ing the application of other end-member subduc- evidenced by the presence of aseismic ridges and
tion-driven tectonic models to the Northern Andes. oceanic plateaus in the obducted Pacific terrane as-
With respect to Mesozoic-Cenozoic tectonic evo- semblage. The result has been limited, oblique, low-
lution in northwestern South America, we stress the angle subduction and transpressive-arc systematics
following differences in basic lithospheric plate- across the Pacific margin of the Northern Andean
interaction parameters, which severely limit the Block throughout much of the Mesozoic-Cenozoic.
application of basic Cordilleran-type convergence These two important observations help explain
and subduction models to the Northern Andean clear deviations with respect to Mesozoic-Cenozoic
Block during the Northern Andean orogeny. Northern Andean tectonics when compared to typ-
Transpressional tectonics and highly oblique ical Cordilleran models, especially as they relate to the
collision/obduction/subduction: Paleomagnetic generation, positioning, and geometry of Andean-
data, in conjunction with historical plate movement type magmatic arcs. We contend that the spatially
vector information (e. g., Pilger, 1984; Engebretson and temporally erratic nature of magmatism, and
et al., 1985), indicate a provenance and approach of the general absence of a well-defined, volumetrically
Pacific (Farallon and Nazca) oceanic lithosphere from extensive magmatic arc for much of the Mesozoic-
the southwest on the late Mesozoic-Cenozoic conti- Cenozoic convergent history of the Northern Andes
nental margin of northwestern South America. This can be attributed to these observations.
information is sustained by onshore kinematic data
that indicates that all of the major structures sepa- Dynamics and Timing of the Northern
rating the components of the Pacific terrane assem- Andean Orogeny
blage, including the Romeral-Peltetec, Cauca-Pujil, As shown in Figures 2, 10, and 11, our scheme for
and Buenaventura fault systems, have a dominant the Mesozoic-Cenozoic tectonic assembly of north-
dextral component. Mesozoic-Cenozoic tectonic western South America in essence proposes a critical
models presented by Aspden et al. (1987), Pindell re-evaluation of the typical application of Andean-
et al. (1988), Van Thournout et al. (1992), Cediel type orogenesis to the geotectonic evolution of the
836 / Cediel et al.

region. We have found that

these data provide a good
basis for interpretation of
the interaction between the
numerous allochthonous
lithotectonic components
of the tectonic mosaic (PAT,
CAT, and CHO, etc.) as de-
fined in Figure 2, and the
South American (CCSP-MSP-
GS) continental autochthon.
In the section titled Re-
gional Tectonics in the
Northern Andes we intro-
duced the concept of four
distinct tectonic realms in
the Northern Andean Block.
We now illustrate how each
of these realms has partici-
pated in and/or responded
to the tectonic assembly of
northwestern South Amer-
ica during the Northern An-
Figure 11. Cretaceous-Neogene tectonic development of northwestern South dean orogeny. A schematic
America shown in four relevant time slices: (11a) Aptian-Albian; arrival and accretion
synthesis of the time-space
of the Romeral terrane (Farallon Plate) and first appearance of the Merida Arch (blue)
in the MSP. RO = Romeral terrane; MSP = Maracaibo subplate. (11b) Paleocene lower evolution of the Northern
Eocene; oblique subduction and accretion of the Dagua-Pin on (DAP) and San Jacinto Andean Block during the
(SJ) terranes and metamorphic deformation (green lines) of the leading edge of the Northern Andean orogeny
Maracaibo subplate along the Santa Marta thrust front; Red crosses = magmatism. is presented in four time
(11c) Eocene lower Miocene; oblique subduction and accretion of the Gorgona
slices in Figure 11. The over-
terrane. Eocene magmatism (red crosses) punctuates the metamorphic front of the
Maracaibo subplate. Magmatism along the Oca El Pilar fault system and emplacement all picture demonstrates
of the Guajira-Falcon and Caribbean Mountain terranes. Moderate uplift of the how the WTR and MSP act
Santander-Perija block and the Sierra de Merida. GU-FA = Guajira-Falcon terrane; simultaneously, each one by
CAM = Caribbean Mountain terrane; Other abbreviations as for 11a and 11b. (11d) distinct tectonic mechan-
Miocene oblique collision of the Sinu terrane and frontal obduction of the Can as isms, generating their own
Gordas and later Baudo terranes. Subduction of the Nazca plate south of the Panama-
individual deformational
Choco Arc (CG-BAU). Further uplift of the Sierra de Merida, Serrana de Perija, and
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SM). Late Miocene-Pliocene pop-up of the Eastern style and, in the process, ex-
Cordillera (EC). Dextral-oblique thrusting in the Garzon massif (GA). Continued erting enormous transpres-
northwest migration of the Maracaibo subplate. Near complete modern configu- sion upon the CCSP trapped
ration. BAU = Baudo terrane; CG = Can as Gordas terrane; PA = Panama terrane; SN = in between. In response to
Sinu terrane; other abbreviations as for 11c. Grey shaded areas in all time slices
this dynamic bidirectional
represent paleotopographic swells, elevated and/or emergent areas. Red crosses
represent magmatism. stress, the CCSP has respond-
ed with its own distinct struc-
tural pattern.

Northern Andean Block. During construction of our Western Tectonic Realm: Continental Growth
geotectonic framework, we have favored the use of Through Sequential Assembly
existing (although incomplete) biostratigraphic and Pacific Terranes (Romeral, Dagua, and
radiometric information and the application of field Gorgona): The first of the allochthonous WTR ter-
observations and geochemical investigations regard- ranes to collide with continental South America (the
ing the various lithotectonic components of the CCSP) was the Romeral terrane (Figure 11a). Romeral
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 837

arrival and oblique docking is temporally and geomet- Dagua-Pin on terrane docking followed Romeral
rically constrained by four independent observations: emplacement (Figure 11b). As outlined in Regional
Tectonics in the Northern Andes, subsection West-
1) Ego and Sebrier (1995) confirm that movement ern Tectonic Realm (WTR), radiometric dating as-
along the Romeral fault is clearly dextral. signs an early-middle Cretaceous age to the tholeiitic
2) Radiometric dating of phengite and glauco- basement of the Dagua-Pin on terrane. The general
phane schists of the El Oro ophiolite (Raspas paucity of continental magmatic arc development in
sector), Ecuador, and the Jambalo area, Colom- Ecuador and southern Colombia (south of Armenia)
bia, respectively, returned K-Ar dates of about and the dominantly dextral component to the
132 and 125 Ma (McCourt and Feininger, 1984). Cauca-Pujil suture system imply that the Dagua
These units are contained in the Romeral suture terrane had similar approach and docking mecha-
and melange, and the dates are interpreted to nisms as the Romeral. In north central Colombia,
indicate the time of collision and emplacement important metaluminous (I-type), calc-alkaline mag-
of the Romeral terrane (Litherland et al., 1994). matism initiating in the middle to late Cretaceous
3) Regional uplift and erosion in the Eastern Cor- is recorded in the Antioquia Batholith. This poly-
dillera and elsewhere is registered in the strati- phase intrusive has returned numerous K-Ar dates
graphic gap of the Aptian. This unconformity ranging from about 90 to 58 Ma (Maya, 1992), strongly
appears to represent tectonic response to Rom- clustering in the 70 Ma range. Additional calc-alkaline
eral docking. magmatism extending into the late Paleocene-Eocene
4) Initial dextral reactivation of the Palestina fault is observed to the south in the Manizales and El
system during the Aptian was documented by Hatillo Plutons and the El Bosque Batholith. Conti-
Feininger (1970). This reactivation indicates trans- nental magmatism abruptly terminates throughout
pressive dextral docking stress relay into preexist- the region after about 49 Ma, and an accelerated
ing structures of the Cajamarca-Valdivia terrane. period of uplift and erosion that initiated at about
56 Ma is recorded. The resulting unconformity ex-
These parameters and the general absence of tends throughout much of the CCSP and is locally
subduction-related magmatism throughout the observed into the Oligocene (e.g., see stratigraphic
Northern Andes during the period 125 110 Ma in- correlations of Cediel and Caceres, 2000). We in-
dicate that docking was highly oblique, although terpret these events to signify highly oblique, right-
the northern termination of the Romeral terrane lateral convergence of the Dagua-Pin on terrane on
may have been wedged forcibly to some degree be- the continental margin beginning in the middle Cre-
neath the continental margin approaching the lat- taceous. Convergence was accompanied by oblique,
itude of the northern Central Cordillera. Romeral low-angle, compressional subduction of Dagua oce-
docking appears to have been essentially complete anic crust in north-central Colombia prior to colli-
by about 110 Ma, as constrained by K-Ar dates pro- sion of the Dagua oceanic plateaus at about 49 Ma.
vided from the apparently autochthonous Buga Bath- Such an interpretation accounts for the apparent
olith, which intrudes on the Romeral terrane to the lack of a subduction-related accretionary prism as-
northeast of Cali. sociated with plate convergence and the irregular
It is noteworthy that the pre-Romeral-Peltetec-San geometry of the Antioquia (Gonzalez, 1996) and El
Jacinto continental margin of northwestern South Bosque Batholiths with respect to typically elongate
America is the same margin beneath which the Nazca Mesozoic-Cenozoic continental-arc systems elsewhere
plate along the Central Andes is presently subduct- (e.g., the Coastal Batholith, Peru; the Sierra Nevada
ing, and the same margin that constitutes the Batholith, California; and the Coastal Plutonic Com-
continental margin of North America with the Pacific plex, British Columbia).
plate. The pattern of highly oblique transport and The arrival of the Gorgona terrane is somewhat
dextral docking and accretion of the Romeral terrane more difficult to constrain because of its offshore pres-
is clearly atypical of Pacific-continental plate inter- ence and consequent lack of exposure. Regardless, ap-
actions along the Central Andean margin. However, proach and docking appear to be recorded by the
with respect to the Northern Andean Block, it sets a middle Eocene Oligocene formation of the Macu-
precedent for similar Pacific margin-continent con- chi island arc (Van Thournout et al., 1992). Con-
figurations during subsequent collision and accre- tinued subduction-related calc-alkaline tonalitic to
tion events involving the Pacific terranes. quartz dioritic magmatism affecting the Dagua-Pin on
838 / Cediel et al.

(Piedrancha, Ro Santiago, Apuela, and Anchicaya Caribbean Mountain terrane and the Romeral me-
Batholiths, and Arboledas Stock) and Romeral terranes lange are observed, providing further support for Pa-
(Suarez, Piedrasentada, and San Cristobal Plutons) also cific provenance followed by northeast tectonic
is observed. K-Ar dates for these intrusives range from transport of the Guajira-Falcon and Caribbean Moun-
about 44 through 13 Ma (see compilations in Maya, tain terranes.
1992, and CODIGEM, 1993a). Pluton distribution is It is difficult to temporally constrain collision and
erratic (CODIGEM, 1993a; Cediel and Caceres, 2000) accretion of the San Jacinto and Sinu terranes be-
and is characterized by the absence of a well-developed cause of lack of radiometric dates and little evidence
arc, suggesting low angle (and oblique) subduction of collision-related response in the CCSP. Arrival of
systematics. Analysis of location versus age distribu- the San Jacinto terrane is registered by deposition
tion reveals an eastward migration of the magmatic of turbidite sequences of continental affinity begin-
focus from the Dagua terrane (Western Cordillera) ning in the Paleocene. Erosional surfaces recorded
into the Romeral (Cauca-Pata basin) between about in the early Eocene suggest pre-Oligocene collision
20 and 17 Ma, suggesting final approach of the Gor- (Figure 11b). Similarly, the Sinu terrane contains
gona oceanic plateau, an accompanying shallowing Oligocene-aged turbidites. Accretion is interpreted for
of the angle of subduction, and a resulting eastward the Miocene (Figure 11c). Accretion of the San Jacinto
magmatic shift. A middle Miocene uplift-related un- and Sinu terranes has left little apparent deforma-
conformity in the middle and upper Magdalena basins tional imprint during the Northern Andean orogeny.
indicates that significant Gorgona docking stress was Choco Arc (Can as Gordas and Baudo
taken up in the CCSP. Compressional reactivation of Terranes): The Choco Arc, bound to the south by
the Cauca fault system in the Cauca-Pata basin, as the Garrapatas fault, records a complex and inde-
recorded by thrust truncation of middle Miocene plu- pendent Cenozoic Pacific plate history to that of the
tons, and contemporaneous(?) thrusting along the Pacific terranes farther south. Paleomagnetic data
Macay fault system of the Dagua-Pin on terrane also (Estrada, 1995) indicate that the calc-alkaline ande-
may represent final Gorgona emplacement. sites and basalts of the Can as Gordas terrane are al-
Caribbean (San Jacinto, Sinu ), Guajira- lochthonous with respect to continental South Amer-
Falcon and Caribbean Mountain Terranes: ica. Petrochemical, radiometric, and paleontological
The arrival, accretion, and present position of the San data (Ortiz, 1979; Alvarez, 1983; Etayo et al., 1983)
Jacinto, Sinu, Guajira-Falcon, and Caribbean Moun- indicate that the volcanics likely originated in an
tain terranes is intimately linked to the evolution and oceanic volcanic-arc setting of middle Cretaceous
emplacement of the Caribbean plate along the San age, possibly associated with the approximately 97
Jacinto and OcaEl Pilar fault systems (Pindell, 1993; Ma (K-Ar) Sabanalarga Batholith. Unconstrained
Cediel and Caceres, 2000; Maresch et al., 2000). In northeast migration of the Can as Gordas terrane
relation to the Northern Andean orogeny, however, was accompanied by the development of a new mag-
these terranes have demonstrated mostly passive matic arc, giving rise to the emplacement of the
behavior. With respect to the Guajira-Falcon and Mande-Acand Batholiths. These and associated
Caribbean Mountain terranes, paleoreconstructions plutons return K-Ar dates indicating an early Eo-
based on petrographic and radiometric studies by cene age (see references in Maya, 1992). The Mande-
Maresch et al. (2000) indicate collision, accretion, Acand Arc intrudes the western margin of the Can as
and metamorphism of these blocks at about 100 Ma Gordas terrane. It ranges from tonalitic to granodio-
(K-Ar, high-pressure schist, eclogite) took place along ritic in composition and was constructed on oceanic
the west coast of South America. Various stages of crust. It is important to note that, based on paleo-
uplift in the late Cretaceous were followed by de- magnetic and tectonic setting considerations, mag-
tachment and dominantly passive dextral transport matism in the Mande-Acand Arc cannot be correlat-
along the Romeral-Peltetec, San Jacinto, and Oca El ed with broadly contemporaneous magmatic activity
Pilar fault systems to their present position since the observed in the El Bosque Batholith (including the
late Paleocene (Figures 11b to 11d). The Caribbean Manizales and El Hatillo Plutons). These later plu-
Mountain terrane was obducted onto the MSP in tons represent modified Andean-type magmatism
the Eocene, and is thus unique among the WTR as- emplaced in the continental autochthon. The Man-
semblage in that it presently (and passively) rests on de-Acand Arc is of intraoceanic affinity. It was em-
continental basement. Marked similarities in proto- placed prior to the arrival of Can as Gordas and, hence,
lith age, lithology, and tectonic history between the is also allochthonous. The same may be said when
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 839

comparing the Mande-Acand Arc with the autoch- Miocene intrusives and disruption of their associated
thonous Eocene-Oligocene intrusives hosted in the Cu-Au-Ag-Zn (Mo, Pb) mineralizations, is also ob-
Dagua-Pin on and Romeral terranes. The approach of served. As our neotectonic analysis will detail below,
Canas Gordas to the continent was moderately dextral final Baudo obduction is still in progress.
oblique (Figure 11d). The apparent lack of an Eocene
magmatic-arc record in continental northern Colom-
bia suggests that subduction was west-directed (i.e., Detachment and Migration of the
the Mande-Acand Arc is the approach record (see Maracaibo Subplate Realm
discussion of trench flip in Smith et al., 1999). The As described in Regional Tectonics in the North-
highly destructive collision of the composite Can as ern Andes, subsection Maracaibo Subplate Realm,
Gordas assemblage with the continent began in the the MSP consists of the entirely autochthonous
Miocene, as supported by two observations. (1) continental Maracaibo subplate. Internal deforma-
Structures associated with the collision of the Can as tion in the MSP began in the middle to late Cre-
Gordas terrane deform the Gorgona terrane and the taceous. This deformation is characterized by mid-
Buenaventura fault system, which were broadly in crustal detachment and northwest-directed migra-
place by the early Miocene. (2) The Garrapatas fault tion of the MSP, facilitated by its two crustal-scale
appears to control Miocene to Holocene sedimenta- strike-slip bounding faults, the Bucaramanga-Santa
tion along the Pacific margin (Figure 8). Marta and Oca El Pilar systems. Numerous events
Final accretion of the Can as Gordas terrane was mark the timing of this tectonism, and uplift in the
complicated to some degree by overlap associated MSP may be considered in three distinct phases.
with the subsequent arrival of the Baudo terrane Phase one is characterized by the reactivation of the
(Figure 11d). Can as Gordas was in place before about bounding Bucaramanga and Oca El Pilar faults,
12 Ma, as it was intruded by the calc-alkaline Mis- uplift in the Santander massif, and the establishment
trato-Farallones Batholiths, and Paramo de Frontino of shallow marine sedimentation patterns outlining
Stock, which mark erratic subduction-related mag- the Merida Arch (Zambrano et al., 1969, see Figures 7
matism associated with Baudo approach. These and 11a, b). Phase two, beginning in the Paleocene,
intrusives return K-Ar dates of 11 and 12 Ma re- involved enhanced transpressional buckling along
spectively (Maya, 1992). As with the approach of the the Bucaramanga and Oca El Pilar systems and rapid
Gorgona terrane in the south, magmatism associated uplift of the Guajira-Falcon terrane along the Carib-
with Baudo arrival shifts eastwards, in this case at bean margin. This transpressional uplift resulted in
approximately 8 Ma, as recorded by a series of stocks the development of an Eocene foreland basin along
emplaced along the margins of the Cauca-Romeral the northern margin of the MSP (Lugo and Mann,
fault zone of central-north Colombia. These include 1995) and the obduction of the Caribbean Mountain
the Quincha, Marmato, Supa, Felisa, Corcovado- terrane farther to the east (Figure 11c). Phase three is
Titirib, Buritica, and other plutons, available K-Ar marked by the detachment and uplift of the Sierra
dates for which fall in the 6 8 Ma range (Maya, de Merida, Serrana de Perija, and Sierra Nevada de
1992). Thus, with respect to associated magmatism, Santa Marta along northwest-verging thrust faults
Baudo arrival illustrates a similar, although tempo- (Figure 11d). This uplift is well recorded in Miocene
rally shifted, location versus age distribution to that to Holocene continental and/or marine basins de-
noted above for the arrival of the Gorgona terrane in veloped along the foreland margins of these ranges
the south. Although similar shift mechanisms are (Zambrano et al., 1969; Shagam, 1972a).
implied, again it is important to note that these Maracaibo subplate migration initiated along a
magmatic events have resulted from distinct tectonic northwest-directed, apparently constant geodynamic
plate interactions, and they cannot be correlated. vector. Middle to late Cretaceous metamorphic rocks
Final Baudo approach was broadly west to east. located at the apex of the MSP (Figure 11b) in the
Middle to late Miocene sedimentation in the Atrato Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Doolan, 1970) were
basin becomes regressive marine to continental, and a exhumed as the MSP was driven into/over the Carib-
late Miocene-Pliocene angular unconformity is noted bean plate. Paleogene tonalite-diorite plutons of the
by Cediel and Caceres (2000). Collision is marked Santa Marta Batholith intrude the Cretaceous meta-
by rotation, tightening, folding, and truncation of morphic rocks, indicating some degree of partial
structures associated with early middle Miocene Ca- melting beneath the apex zone. Regardless, it is im-
as Gordas docking. Continued faulting of the late portant to note that gravity anomalies (Figure 7) and
840 / Cediel et al.

the movement history along the Oca El Pilar fault the Bocono fault in the Pliocene may be a latent
system (Figures 4, 11a and d) suggest that the Carib- record of WTR-induced stress, stored or buffered
bean plate is not subducting beneath the MSP, as since the Aptian. Likewise, stress long since stored in
interpreted by Taboada et al. (2000) based on their the Guiana Shield may have been triggered or un-
recent tomographic modeling. We prefer to inter- locked during WTR accretion. Lack of information
pret Caribbean plate MSP interaction as a form of renders these ideas purely speculative.
forced underthrusting, an interpretation in accord
with the conclusions of Van der Hilst (1990) and Central Continental Subplate Realm:
Van der Hilst and Mann (1994). Such an interpreta- Internal compensation
tion is supported by the lack of a subduction-related The role of the CCSP during the Northern Andean
magmatic arc in the MSP or elsewhere in northern orogeny essentially has been passive. This realm re-
to north-central Colombia or western Venezuela. Ad- cords deformational response to the aggressive tec-
ditionally, observations regarding the resistance of tonics involved in WTR emplacement, many features
thick, excessively buoyant Caribbean oceanic crust of which already have been discussed. With respect
to subduction (e. g., Molnar and Atwater, 1978) limit to the CCSP, Aptian-Albian through late Cretaceous
CCSP Caribbean plate interaction to relatively low response to Pacific terrane collisions was registered
angles. Finally, most paleogeographic reconstruc- by reactivation of the Palestina and associated faults
tions depicting emplacement of the Caribbean plate (Feininger, 1970). Subsequent collisions are reported
(e.g., Pindell, 1993; Maresch et al., 2000) illustrate a in Paleocene-Eocene and Oligocene-Miocene uplift-
dominantly dextral-oblique plate-movement vector related unconformities (Cediel and Caceres, 2000).
throughout much of the Cenozoic with respect to the Important stress relief also is observed in the rather
north coast of Colombia and Venezuela. spectacular late Miocene Pliocene transpressive
Plausible models explaining the internal defor- pop-up of the Eastern Cordillera. Uplift mechanisms
mation in the MSP, including the uplift mechanics and the crustal structure underlying this region are
of the Sierra de Merida and the Serrana de Perija, well documented by the geophysical and gravity-
involve lithospheric folding and delamination at based lithospheric modeling of Sarmiento (2002).
the base of the effective elastic layer (Cloetingh, The geometry and values for the Moho depth con-
1999; Meissner and Mooney, 1998) and the forma- tours and the thickness contours representing effec-
tion of a mega plis de fond in the sense of Rullan tive elastic lithosphere, illustrated in Figure 9, permit
(1953). However, the causal mechanisms behind the interpretation of severe deformation in the root zone
northwest migration of the Maracaibo subplate re- of the Eastern Cordillera. This deformation is attrib-
main unclear. It is important to note that the de- utable to prolonged (late Paleozoic to early Mesozoic)
formational pattern and movement vector for the crustal stretching over the regional thermal high
MSP appears completely independent of the gener- associated with the Bolivar Aulacogen. The resulting
ally northeast to east-west directed collision tecton- lithospheric discontinuity provided a first-order con-
ics and associated structural record generated by trol on the localization of important inverse struc-
arrival of the components of the Western Tectonic tures used during subsequent transpressive reactiva-
Realm. No measurable record of WTR-related stress tion, basin inversion, and final EC uplift.
(jointing, faulting, folding, foliations) has been de- EC uplift is the result of dual northeast-directed
ciphered linking WTR tectonic assembly to defor- and northwest-directed transpressive stresses exerted
mation observed in the MSP. The Central Continen- on the CCSP by the WTR and MSP, respectively. The
tal subplate and BucaramangaSanta Marta fault may development of divergent thrust fronts on either side
have acted as shock absorbers or stress relay barriers of the EC (Figure 2) during transpressive pop-up is
between the MSP and the WTR. well supported by field-map patterns and geophys-
Regardless, we do not consider the Aptian-Albian ical profiling (Geotec, 1996; Cediel et al., 1998; Ce-
arrival of the first WTR terranes along the Pacific diel and Caceres, 2000). It is in this tectonic frame-
margin and the incipient Aptian-Albian detach- work that the structural/sedimentological evolu-
ment/migration of the MSP as purely coincidental. tion of the Western and Eastern foreland basins, as
It may be possible, given sufficient Northern Andean located in Figure 3, should be understood. These data,
Block stress field related information, to resolve a in conjunction with the modeling of Sarmiento
northwest-oriented movement vector along which (2002), clearly preclude the existence of a hypothet-
the MSP continues to migrate. Dextral reactivation of ical, low-angle, east-verging, mid-crustal detachment
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 841

undercutting the entire Central Cordillera, Middle ican plates, and that this evolution continues up to
Magdalena basin, and Eastern Cordillera, and merg- the present.
ing with faults of the Llanos basin, as proposed by If our four tectonic realms and their various com-
Dengo and Covey (1993). ponents are considered in light of neotectonic
studies presented by Lueschen (1982), Page (1986),
Guiana Shield Realm: Late Involvement Kroonenberg et al., (1990), Audemard (1996), and
The GSR also has seen little active involvement in others, the following observations can be made:
Northern Andean Mesozoic-Cenozoic tectonics. The
only demonstrable modification along the GSR 1) Approximately the southeastern half of the CCSP
margin is the late Miocene reactivation of the Suaza (to the southeast of the Palestina fault) is in the
fault (Figures 2 and 9). This reactivation exhumed the process of subsidence.
Garzon massif along east- to northeast-verging dex- 2) Approximately the northwestern half of the
tral oblique thrusts and generated subsidiary thrusts CCSP (to the north of the Palestina fault) and
that deform the supracrustal sequences of the Pu- the Caribbean San Jacinto and Sinu terranes are
tumayo and southern Llanos basins and the Serrana in process of uplift.
de la Macarena into the Miocene. Uplift of the massif 3) The uplift of the Maracaibo subplate, as reflected
also is recorded in middleupper Miocene Upper in the high positive-gravity anomaly associated
Magdalena basin sedimentation (Van der Wiel, 1991). with the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SM) and
Based on both timing and stress-vector constraints, it the continued northwest displacement of the
is difficult to relate late Miocene uplift and de- MSP has converted the SM into the highest con-
formation of the Garzon massif with collision of tinental mountain range in the world, whose
either the Gorgona or Baudo terranes. Modified re- base is located directly at sea level. Geologically
construction of Pacific plate data presented by Pilger speaking, the height of the SM is even more
(1984), however, does predict the arrival of the pronounced; the Ariguan foredeep, located on
Carnegie Ridge along the Ecuador-Colombia trench the western flank of the SM, contains almost
(Figure 2) at about 10 Ma. Linear extrapolation of 6,000 stratigraphic meters of Neogene marine
the broadly east- to northeast-directed transport/ and continental sediments. Thus, in a horizontal
collision vector of this aseismic ridge indicates that distance of about 50 km, it is possible to measure
collision/subduction of the Carnegie Ridge since the vertical uplift of approximately 12 km with re-
middle to late Miocene could have contributed to the spect to the location of the pre-Neogene rocks of
reactivation of the Suaza fault and account for late the SM (Gansser, 1955). The structural inversion
Miocene uplift and deformation in the Garzon massif of the Carora basin (CO) is an additional ex-
(e.g., see Van der Wiel, 1991). The subduction sys- pression of uplift since the end of the Miocene.
tematics of Carnegie Ridge type oceanic crust (thick 4) From the geographic point of intersection of the
and excessively buoyant) would support this obser- Garrapatas and Cauca fault systems, southwards,
vation. Such crust will undergo low-angle to flat the Pacific terranes (Romeral, Dagua-Pin on, and
subduction (Molnar and Atwater, 1978) and incite a Gorgona) are in the process of subsidence.
collisional/subduction style that more efficiently 5) The Choco Arc (including the Can as Gordas and
transfers stress into the craton. The result is often Baudo terranes) is the youngest allochthonous
the generation of basement-cored thrust blocks such assemblage observed in the geotectonic mosaic
as those seen in the Garzon massif (e.g., Laramide of northwestern South America. It is in full pro-
orogeny). cess of uplift, as evidenced by numerous associ-
ated geomorphologic features, including fluvial
Neotectonics of the Northern Andean Block terraces, alluvial fans, and raised coastlines.
It is evident that each one of the tectonic realms we 6) The Guajira-Falcon terrane continues its passive
have discussed in detail (Figure 2) demonstrates its eastward migration along the dextral Oca El
own distinct behavior and response to the Mesozoic- Pilar fault system. Paleoseismic studies by Aude-
Cenozoic tectonics of the Northern Andean Block. mard (1996) indicate that Holocene surface slip
It is important to remember that this behavior re- along the Oca fault is close to 2 mm per year.
cords deformations and responses associated with 7) The classic expression of the Andean Cordille-
the prolonged tectonic evolution of the Pacific (Faral- ra, that is, Andean-type or Cordilleran-type vol-
lon and Nazca-Cocos), Caribbean, and South Amer- canism, forms a 1000 km chain of composite
842 / Cediel et al.

stratovolcanic cones in the Northern Andes. that magma contamination by crustal assimilation
These volcanoes occur along the Andean margin was limited, and lava chemistry is generally inde-
in an 80- to 120-km-wide belt, extending from pendent of age, composition, or thickness of the
south-central Ecuador to central Colombia (Fig- overlying, intruded continental crust.
ure 2). They are the only volcanic manifestation In order to obtain an enhanced understanding of
associated with subduction processes in the en- the angle and geometry of the subducting Pacific
tire northwestern region of South America (sub- (Nazca) plate in the Northern Andes, the quantita-
duction-related volcanism reappears to the north tive trigonometric relationship developed by Keith
in the Chorotega Arc of Central America). Vol- (1978) was applied to the data of Kroonenberg et al.
canism is primarily late Pliocene to Recent in age, (1982), Droux and Delaloye (1996), and Barragan
dominated by lavas and pyroclastic rocks of an- et al. (1998). Results suggest that the Nazca plate is
desitic, dacitic, and lesser basaltic composition, subducting eastward beneath the WTR at about 30
and reflects subduction of Miocene-aged Nazca to 358. Beyond about 300 km, trench-to-volcanic
(and perhaps older Farallon) oceanic crust be- manifestation distance (i.e., beyond the Romeral-
neath northwestern South America along the Peltetec suture and beneath the Central-Real Cordil-
Ecuador-Colombia trench. lera), the dip steepens markedly to about 45 to 508+.
(Note: We have used intermediate values for magma
Although commonly viewed as a single volcanic depth generation in the ranges proposed by Keith
belt, in detail it is possible to discern various dis- (1978, after Dickinson, 1975.) These data suggest that
continuous but distinct volcanic subchains in the the Nazca plate describes an arcuate-downward ge-
Northern Andean Arc (see CODIGEM, 1993a; Cediel ometry beneath the Northern Andes, attributable
and Caceres, 2000). When geographic (west-to-east) to slab bend or sag with distance from the trench.
subchain location is combined with high precision This same distance also may reflect the eastern lim-
petrochemical data for volcanic rocks from individ- it of the subduction of thick, buoyant, Carnegie
ual subchains (Kroonenberg et al., 1982; Droux and Ridge crust. Additional data may permit the iden-
Delaloye, 1996; Barragan et al., 1998) and data are tification of various slab segments along the Nazca
considered in light of empirical studies describing plate.
relationships between magma depth generation (the With respect to crustal-level structural controls
Benioff zone), magma potash chemistry, and trench- on magma emplacement, we have observed clear co-
to-magmatic arc distance (Dickinson, 1975; Keith, incidence of volcanic cone and subchain location
1978), it is possible to reveal important informa- with the trace of the various paleosuture systems along
tion regarding the nature and controls on magma which we have herein reconstructed the Northern
composition versus distribution, the angle and geom- Andean Block. This coincidence emphasizes the im-
etry of the subducting Pacific slab, and structural con- portance of underlying paleostructure in the evolving
trols on the emplacement/manifestation of magmas/ tectonics of northwestern South America. Below, we
volcanoes throughout the cordilleran region. outline the most important subchains, identified
With respect to the nature of and controls on based on the paleosuture system that has been most
magma composition in the Northern Andes, petro- influential during volcano emplacement. Subchains
chemical data (Kroonenberg et al., 1982; Droux and are listed west to east (with respect to the paleo-
Delaloye, 1996; Barragan et al., 1998) outline clear, suture, youngest to oldest), with their most promi-
approximately west-to-east changes in magma ma- nent volcanic cones named from south to north.
jor, minor, and trace-element chemistry (highlighted
by increasing alkalinity), reflecting increasing, per- Cauca-Pujil subchain: Illiniza-Atacazo-
pendicular, trench to subchain distance and, hence, Pichincha-Cotacachi (Ecuador)-Chiles-Cumbal-
depth to the Benioff zone (Dickinson, 1975). Barra- Azufral-Olaya (Colombia).
gan et al. (1998) indicate that their documented re- Inter-Andean subchain: This subchain is
lationship between lava composition and depth to located between the Cauca-Pujil and Romeral-
the Benioff zone in north-central Ecuador indicates Peltetec sutures. It follows the Inter-Andean de-
that observed magma compositions were controlled pression and, in this sense, forms the true ex-
mostly by subduction-related parameters, including pression of arc-axial magmatism along this zone
volatile-induced partial melting of depleted mantle of weak extension developed over the northern
and subducted slab-derived sources. They conclude Andean thermal arc axis. Its principal volcanic
Tectonic Assembly of the Northern Andean Block / 843

cones include: Chimborazo-Igualata Sagoatoa- provenance, and their present configuration reveals a
Cotopaxi-Mojanda (Ecuador)-Galeras-Mora- migratory path leading from southwest to northeast,
zurco (Colombia). along the western and northern margins of the South
Romeral-Peltetec subchain: Altar-Tungura- American continental block, and into the Caribbean.
gua Antisanas-Cayambe-Mangus (Ecuador)-La Thus, an intimate relationship between the tectonic
Victoria-Chimbo-Bordoncillo-Don a Juana Sotara- assembly of the Northern Andean Block and the
Purace (Colombia). passage of the Caribbean plate is illustrated. This
Palestina subchain: La Horqueta-Paletara- relationship is further documented by analysis of the
Huila-Tolima-Ruiz-Herveo (Colombia). This sub- evolutionary history of the Romeral-Peltetec, San
chain is not well defined in Ecuador. It may in- Jacinto, and Oca El Pilar fault systems, which fa-
clude Sangay, which straddles the Cordillera Real cilitated emplacement of the Caribbean plate. In
along the Llanganates fault (see Regional Tec- parallel with this emplacement, the dominantly
tonics in the Northern Andes, subsection Pal- dextral component of these faults was formative in
estina fault system above) in a geologic position the transpressive structural styling of much of the
similar to that of the Tolima-Ruiz cluster in the Northern Andean Block.
north-central Central Cordillera of Colombia. As a tectonic realm, the Maracaibo subplate is
Suaza subchain: Sumaco-Pan de Azucar-Reven- another clear testament to the complexity of the
tador (Ecuador)-Guamues-Acevedo (Colombia). regional stress fields associated with the tectonic
evolution of northwestern South America. The
detachment and northwest migration of the MSP is
CONCLUDING STATEMENT a unique aspect of Northern Andean development.
Although much remains to be deciphered with
Throughout our presentation, we have empha- respect to mechanisms behind this migration, no
sized that perhaps the most pertinent observation analog for the MSP is found in present Cordilleran-
that can be made regarding Northern Andean Block type or Collision-type orogenic models.
evolution with respect to typical Andean-type The same may be said of Colombias Eastern
orogenesis is that its history has been anything but Cordillera. The doubly vergent pop-up of this litho-
typical. Numerous features, from the Proterozoic tectonic domain and its relationship to the evolving
through to the present, exemplify the atypical nature bidirectional transpressive stresses of the WTR and
of Northern Andean tectonics, and it is precisely the MSP is only just beginning to be understood fully.
these features that provide critical insight into As with the MSP, no geologic analog is found in the
Northern Andean assembly. Each one certainly will entire Andean region that provides a basis for mod-
provide an avenue for further multidisciplinary eling of the Eastern Cordillera uplift, complete with
investigation and understanding of the tectonic the penecontemporaneous development of dual
evolution of the region as a whole. foreland thrust fronts exhibiting opposing vergence
Some of the most important conclusions of our directions and two separate accompanying foreland
study have been derived through analysis of the basins (Eastern and Western). Eastern Cordilleran
punctuated assembly of the Western Tectonic Realm, uplift provides an excellent example of how atypical
which in itself provides various examples of atypical is Northern Andean evolution, and highlights the
Andean tectonics. First, the WTR provides clear need to update past concepts about the underlying
testimony to the importance of allochthonous ter- structure of the Northern Andean Block.
ranes in the Northern Andes, not only in terms of Finally, we emphasize the importance of under-
their constituency in the cordilleran region, but also standing the ancient tectonic history of northwest-
regarding their role as a driving mechanism behind ern South America with respect to deciphering
Mesozoic-Cenozoic deformation, magmatism, up- Mesozoic-Cenozoic developments during the North-
lift, and sedimentation patterns in the South Amer- ern Andean orogeny. The Precambrian and Paleozoic
ican continental block. tectonic record of the Northern Andean Block has
Additionally, the WTR provides clear paleomag- had a major influence on even the most recent of
netic, petrochemical, lithologic, and structural evi- lithotectonic expressions in the region, including the
dence linked to the origin and migration of the development of structural style, the facilitation of
Caribbean plate. All WTR terranes, including those uplift and control of sedimentation patterns, and the
presently located in the Caribbean basin, have Pacific localization of magmatic and volcanic activity. An
844 / Cediel et al.

excellent example of this long-lived influence is the lavas from the Ecuadorian Andes: Earth and Planetary
continued reactivation and use of the Grenvillian Science Letters, v. 154 (1 4), p. 153 166.
Barrero, D., 1977, Geology of the Central Western Cordil-
Bucaramanga Santa Marta and Suaza fault system.
lera, west of Buga and Roldanillo, Colombia: Ph. D.
From a Proterozoic continent-continent suture to a
Dissertation, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, 148 p.
Holocene focus of Andean magmatism, this veteran Bellizzia, A., 1976, Mapa Geologico Estructural de Vene-
of Northern Andean evolution scarcely has been zuela: Ministerio de Minas e Hidrocarburos, Direccion
allowed a moments rest during the tectonic assem- de Geologa, Escala 1:500.000.
bly of the Northern Andean Block. Bellizzia, A., and N. Pimentel, 1981, General Structural
Geology Map of the North Part of South America:
Geological Survey of Venezuela.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Beltran, C., 1993, Mapa Neotectonico de Venezuela:
Funvisis, Departamento de Ciencias de la Tierra, Escala
This work has been significantly improved by 1:2.000.000.
Bonini, W., C. Pimstein, and V. Graterol, 1977, Mapa de
various external contributions. The authors grateful-
Anomalas Gravimetricas de Bouguer, Norte de Vene-
ly acknowledge financial support from Gold Fields
zuela: Ministerio de Energa y Minas, Venezuela, Escala
Exploration Inc., President and CEO Craig J. Nelsen. 1:1.000.000.
In addition, we thank AAPG reviewers Dr. Peter Em- Bosch, M., and I. Rodrguez, 1992, Acoplamiento Caribe-
met (PlusPetrol Co.) and Dr. Joshua Rosenfeld Suramerica: Delimitacion del bloque norte de Vene-
(Veritas Inc.) for their thorough and enthusiastic re- zuela: VI Congreso Venezolano de Geofsica, Caracas,
views, insightful comments, and helpful suggestions. p. 28 35.
rgl, H., 1967, The orogenesis of the Andean System of
Colombia: Tectonophysics, v. 4, p. 429 443.
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