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Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile

By CEDRIC MORTIMER,Santiago, Chile, and NICOLXSSARI~RENDIC, Calama *)

With 8 Figures

Zusammenfassung
Die Kiistenkordillere Nordchiles stellt eine paleogene Landschaft mit Blockverwer-
fungen dar. Das Gebirge ist von Canyons zerlegt und im Westen von einem hohen
Cliff und marinen Terrassen begrenzt. Ostw/irts befindet sich der L~ingstalgraben,
gefiillt mit neogenen Ablagernngen. Die neogenen Formationen sind lokal gest6rt. In
den Hochanden haben sich Stratovulkane auf dem andinen Plateau gebildet.
Im nSrdlichsten Chile ist das Abtauchen des submarinen Kontinentalrandes vom
Aufstieg der Anden begleitet. Sial und Sima, die im Grabenbereich verschwanden,
haben wahrscheinlich eine Magmaproduktion hervorgerufen. Die magmatischen und
strukturellen Vorg~inge bewegen sich dort ostw/irts. Die Plattenbewegungen hatten
eine kompressive Tektonik zur Folge, aber lokale Dehnung hat am Rande der kon-
tinentalen Platte stattgefunden. Die L~ingstaldepression ist als eine tektonisch neutrale
Zone westlich der ostw~irts fallenden Aufschiebung der Anden zu betrachten. Die
Kiistenterrassen stellen eine rezente, fiir die Zone atypische Hebungsphase dar.
Horizontale N--S-Verwerfungen sind alten Plattenverschiebungen zuzusprechen. Pro-
blematische, ungef~ihr E - - W verlaufende Verwerfungen kSnnten die Einordnung der
Kontinentalr~inder zu dem dutch rezente relative Plattenbewegungen hervorgerufenen
StreB darstellen.
Friihtertiiire Erosion hat eine paleogene Landschaft geformt. Die dadurch verur-
saehten groBen Mengen paleogener Sedimente sind wohl w~ihrend der Plattenkonvergenz
verschluckt worden. Tektonische Bewegungen im sp/iten Plioz~in haben die L/ingstal-
und andere kleinere Depressionen gebildet. Im Siiden hat die neogene Erosion die
paleogene Landschaft geformt, abet zur Zeit des oberen Mioz~ins hat jede wichtigere
Pediplanation und Aggradierung aufgehSrt und die Bildung der Canyons eingesetzt. Im
oberen Mioz~in haben die Ignimbritergiisse aufgehSrt, w~ihrend die Produktion der
andesitischen Stratovulkane einsetzte, die das interne AbfluBsystem des Altiplano modi-
fizierte. Die riickwirkende Erosion in den Kan~ilen l~ings der Anden hat einige dieser
FluBsysteme nach dem Mioziin eingefangen. Die Canyons durch das Kiistengebirge
waren auch zu ungefiihr dieser Zeit etabliert, abet einige der l~ingeren Kan~ile im Siiden
sind ~ilter.

Abstract
The Cordillera de la Costa is constructed from a block-faulted Paleogene landscape.
The range is cut by canyons and bordered by a high cliff and a zone of marine
terraces. To the east the longitudinal depression is infilled by Neogene deposits which
were laid-down over the Paleogene surface and have since been locally structurally
disturbed. In the Andes stratovolcanoes rise above the Andean plateau and are sur-
rounded by internal drainage basins.
In northernmost Chile subsidence of the submarine continental margin has been
complemented by uplift of the Andes. Ingestion of sial and sima in the trench area
seems to have led to magma production, and there has been an eastward movement in

*) Authors' addresses: Dr.C. MoRTIMER, Instituto de Investigaciones Geol6gicas,


Casilla 10465, Santiago, Chile; N. SARI~R., Compafiia Minera Ex6tica, Calama, Chile.
395
Aufs~itze

both igneous and structural events. The present plate motions have produced a com-
pressive tectonism, but local distension has occurred at the edge of the continental
plate. The longitudinal depression is believed to be a tectonically neutral zone west of
the eastward-dipping reverse faulting of the Andean region. Wave-action on a sub-
siding coast is considered responsible for carving the high cliff, whereas littoral terraces
reflect a recent zonally-atypical uplift phase.
N--S strike-slip faulting is attributed to ancient plate-closure patterns. Problematic
approximately E~Vr faults could reflect the adjustment of the continental margin to
the stresses generated during recent relative plate motions.
Early Tertiary erosion produced a Paleogene pediplain. The resulting large quantities
of Paleogene sediment are considered to have been subducted during plate con-
vergence. Tectonic movements formed the longitudinal depression and other smaller
basins in the late Oligocene. Towards the south, Neogene planation has eroded the
Paleogene pediplain, although major pediplanation and aggradation had everywhere
ceased by the Upper Miocene when canyon formation commenced. Ignimbritic eruption
waned in the Upper Miocene, and gave way to andesitic stratovolcano production that
modified the Altiplano internal drainage. Post-Miocene capture of some of this
drainage has occurred by headward erosion along Andean flank channels. Canyons
across the coastal mountains were established at about the same time, although some
of the long channels in the south are of greater antiquity.

R6sum6
La Cordill6re cotibre du Nord du Chili appara~t comme un horst d6coupant une
surface morphologique paleog6ne. La chalne est entaill6e par des canyons et domine
en falaise une 6troite bande de terrasses marines. La d6pression longitudinale qui la
limite ~t l'Est est remplie de d6p6ts n6og6nes qui ensevelissent la surface pal6og6ne
faiblement deform6e.
Dans les Andes, des stratovolcans pars6ment le plateau andin,
Dans l'extr6me Nord du Chili, la subsidence de la marge continentale sous-marine
a 6t6 accompagn6e par le soul6vement des Andes. L'ingestion de sial au niveau de la
fosse semble responsable de la g6nbse des magmas et de la migration vers l'Est des
manifestations ign6es et structurales.
L'actuel mouvement de plaques a produit une tectonique en compression avec des
distensions locales sur la marge de la plaque continentale. La d@ression longitudinale est
interpret6e comme une zone tectonique neutre h rOuest de la faille ~ plongement
Est remontant la zone andine.
L'abrasion marine sur la c6te en voie de subsidence est rendue responsable de la
m6gafalaise cotibre bien que les terrasses littorales t6moignent d'une phase de soulbve-
ment local.
Les d6crochements Nord--Sud repr6senteraient des mouvements diff6rentiels au sein
de la plaque. Le syst6me de failles E W r6pondrait au r6ajustement de la marge
continentale. La p6diplaine pal6ogbne r6sulterait de la phase d'6rosion du d6but du
tertiaire. Les produits d'6rosion auraient 6t6 entra~n~s dans la subduction durant la
convergence des plaques. Les mouvements tectoniques de la fin de roligoc6ne for
mbrent la d6pression longitudinale et d'autres petits bassins. Vers le Sud la p6n6plana-
tion n6og6ne a 6rod6 les restes de la p6diplaine pal6og6ne; enfin toute 6rosion planaire
a cess6 ~ la fin du Miocbne avec la formation des canyons. Le volcanisme ignimbritique
s'est achev6 ~t la fin du Miocbne sup6rieur e t a 6t6 relay6 par le volcanisme central
and6sitique qui modifia le drainage de l'Altiplano. La capture post-mioc6ne par
6rosion regressive de quelques-uns de ces r6seaux a 6t6 effectu6e par les cours d'eau
du flanc occidental de la Cordillbre. Les canyons qui entraillent la Cordill6re coti6re
furent creus6s ~ la mSme 6poque, bien que certains au Sud semblent plus anciens.

396
C. MORTIMERand N. SARIdRENDIC - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
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Introduction
The crestal region of the Andean chain in northern Chile consists of volcanic
peaks which often rise over 6000 m. a. s. 1. and dominate the 4000 m. high Alti-
piano which extends into Peril, Bolivia and Argentina. The frequency of vol-
canoes decreases towards the east and, with falling altitude, towards the west.
The peripheral ranges loose height towards the depositional basin of the Pampa
del Tamarugal (longitudinal depression), which lies between 1000 and 2000 m.
a. s. 1. (Fig. 1). The subdued surface of this depression is bordered on the west
by the Cordillera de la Costa which rises to a height of around 8000 m. a. s. 1.
Bordering the western edge of the coastal mountains is a high cliff at the foot of
which is normally developed a selvedge of marine terraces. Offshore of a narrow
continental shelf lies the continental slope of the Chile Trench which reaches a
maximum depth of 8000 m. below sea level about 100 kin. from the shore.
The general geology of northern Chile has been described by BROGGEN (1950),
Mu~OZ (1956), ZEXL (1964), RvIz (1965) and CECIONI (1970). In addition, a large
number of regional geological maps have been published by the Instituto de
Investigaciones Geol6gicas, and the pre-Cenozoic geological framework is now
established. Northern Chile was, however, raised above sea level during the
Cretaceous and the area has had its most recent geological history determined
by volcanicity and continental sedimentation modified by tectonic and erosional
26 Geologische Rundschau, Bd. 64 ~9"~
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C. MORTIMERand N. SARI~RENDIC- - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
activity. As northern Chile is one of the world's most arid regions (ALMEYDA,
1949; FVENZAtaDA, 1966; TI~EWARTttA, 1961), landforms which resulted from
early Tertiary processes have not been unrecognizably modified by more recent
erosion, and the modern landscape contains comparatively ancient elements
whilst reflecting very recent modifications. Since this is a region of high seismic
and volcanic activity, the degree of control of the topography by processes
originating directly from the instability of the earth's crust is, in view of the
slow production of erosional features, probably unique.
In this paper an attempt is made to assemble the evidence of Cenozoic events
which have produced the present physiographic configuration of northernmost
Chile.

The Cordillera de la Costa


Fault movements within the coastal mountains have dislocated an old land-
scape (Fig. 2). The erosion surface is now preserved as the bedrock surface of
uplifted blocks, and as the floor of down-faulted basins. North of the mouth of
the Rio Loa (21 ~ 25' lat. S) the predominating trends of the faults are approxi-
mately N - - S and E - - W . E - - W striking faults have a preferred downthrow to
the north and the intervening blocks are often tilted slightly to the south. The
N - - S fault scarps are less well-preserved and have no preferred direction of
throw. The fault scarps of the E - - W system are generally younger in origin than
the N - - S ones (MORTIMER • SAI:tlC, 1972). The greatest topographic displace-
ment is 500 m. of southerly upthrow on a fault passing ENE to the north of
Cerro Atajafia (19 ~ 20' lat. S).
Fault traces between Tocopilla (22 ~ 05' lat. S) and Antofagasta (28 ~ 45' lat. S)
vary between NW and NS. South of Antofagasta the NS trend is dominant.
Most of the faults show direct displacement of the topography.
One longitudinally extensive feature in the Cordillera de la Costa is the Ata-
cama Fault (Fig. 8) which, with its associated branches, stretches from at least
the latitude of Copiap6 in the southern desert (about 27 ~ lat. S) as far north
as Iquique (20 ~ 15' lat. S). This structure has a topographic westerly upthrow,
and it may have suffered lateral movement (ARABASZ, 1968 and 1971; ST. AMAND
& ALLEN, 1960). However, the predominating movements on the great majority
of the faults appear to have been dip-slip and high angle.
The old landscape disturbed by the faulting has a marked lack of landscape
features and forms one element of the basal landscape first noted by HOLLING-
WOnTrI & RVTLAND (1968), and which is now known to be complex. The dis-
located planation surface of the northern coastal area has been named the
Coastal Tarapac~t Pediplain (MORTIMER & SAnI6, 1972), and is best preserved
between Arica (18 ~ 80' lat. S) and Antofagasta (Fig. 2). South of Antofagasta
it is skeletally preserved above a younger regional erosion surface which is the
northern extension of the Atacama Pediplain (MoaTIMEn, 1978).
The tectonically-formed basins within the Cordillera de la Costa are floored
by continental sediments. The lowest parts of the sedimentary sequence are
probably alluvium deposited on the Coastal Tarapacfi Pediplain and may predate
the faulting. In the central and eastern parts of the coastal mountains, parti-
cularly in the far north, nitrates and other salts locally impregnate the upper few
399
Aufs~itze

Fig. 2. The high cliff and faulted topography of the Cordillera de la Costa immediately
to the south of the Quebrada Camarones (from photo no. 26 821).

metres of the continental sequence and have given rise to the once lucrative, now
virtually defunct nitrate industry.
MORTIMER et al. (1974) have dated an ignimbrite from the upper beds in a
depositional basin at Pisagua (19 ~ 85" lat. S). The volcanic flow yielded a Lower
Miocene date (21 m.y.), and the result shows that the underlying Coastal Tara-
pac~i Pediplain probably formed during the Paleogene.
In the north E W trending gorges cut across the Cordillera de la Costa (Fig. 2).
Such channels are virtually independent of the drainage of the coastal mountains
since they have developed as ephemeral carriers of water derived from Andean
precipitation. South of Antofagasta drainage from the interior reaches the coast
in shallow washes which reach the sea with a marked steepening of gradient.
Lying at the foot of the high cliff is a littoral zone of terraces which is almost
continuously present along the north Chilean coast. The highest terrace observed
in the area lies at about 150m. a. s. 1. immediately to the south of Iquique,
although lower altitudes are more common elsewhere and in places the cliff,
400
C. MORTIMERand N. SARIdRENDIC - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
which can reach nearly 2000 m. in height, is still actively receding under wave
action (Fig. 2). Such variations in the height of the uppermost terrace have been
noted from the southern Atacama Desert by COOKE (1964, 1965) and by MOR-
TIMER (1978). These authors concluded from the differences in number, altitude
and lateral extent of terraces at different localities, that they could only reflect
a tectonically-inspired, episodic coastal uplift. PASKOFF (e. g. 1970) concluded
that glacio-eustatic sea level influences are visible in the terrace sequences of the
La Serena region (near 30 ~ lat. S), and are superimposed on a tectonically
emergent shoreline.
The terraces in the littoral area of northern Chile are normally covered by, or
cut into, Plio-Pleistocene onlap and offlap marine sediments (HERM, 1969). Such
sediments are normally confined to the terraced area, but at Caleta Coloso, and
on the Mejillones Peninsula (both close to Antofagasta) the onlap sequence has
transgressed the western edge of the coastal mountains.
Fault traces can be recognised as preferred zones of wave etching in the
littoral area (Fig. 2), but the faults have normally had no displacement effect
in the immediate coastal area and must therefore have undergone their principal
movement before the development of the present coastal landforms.

The longitudinal depression (Pampa del Tamarugal)


The Pampa del Tamarugal is an elongate, NS basin which terminates at the
coast north of Arica. The surface of the Pampa rises towards the Andean flanks,
and although some deep channels cross the Pampa to the sea, the basin acts as
baselevel for most of the streams descending from the Andes. It is consequently
an area of ephemeral lakes and salt flats. South of Baquedano (28 ~ 20' lat. S) the
Pampa consists of alternating basins and ranges which rise in height eastwards.
Drainage from the Andes in .the region between Baquedano and the latitude of
Paposo (25 ~ 00' lat. S) is ponded in the Pampa area, but south of Paposo drainage
normally connects to the coast.
BROGGEN (1950) recognised that the deposits of the Pampa del Tamarugal, as
well as those covering large areas of the high Andes consist of intercalated ignim-
britic lava flows and continental sediments. He proposed that these rocks be
named the Liparitica or Riolitica Formation. Although this terminology still
serves well in general reference, other authors have since proposed more local
formation names: SALASet al. (1966) report 1000 m. of continental deposits east
of Arica. The name of Azapa Formation was applied to the basal conglomerates,
whereas an overlying unconformable succession of ignimbrites and sediments was
called the Oxaya Formation. The uppermost conglomeratic member of the
sequence forms the depositional surface of the Pampa and is the Diablo For-
mation (ToBAR et al., 1968). SALASet al. (1966) report radiometric ages of up to
18.7 m.y. for Oxaya Formation lava flows, and they accordingly assigned the
Azapa Formation to the Paleogene.
MORTIMER et al. (1974) have established that the basal rocks of the Riolitica
Formation near 19 ~ 15' fat. S were being deposited 21 m.y. ago. They also
demonstrated that the main aggradation of the Pampa del Tamarugal had ceased
by about 9 m. y. ago. Ages reported by CLARKet al. (1967) and MOaTIMER (1978)
from lava flows in the southern Atacama Desert showed that the aggradation of
401
Aufs~ttze

Fig. 8. The Atacama Fault break north of Paposo (from photo no. 8332).

the Pampa area south of 26 ~ 00' lat. S had also ceased about the end of the
Middle Miocene.
Near to 20 ~ 30' lat. S on the eastern edge of the Pampa, GAnH & DmGMAN
(1962) recognized over 700 m. of ignimbrites and sediments which they called
the Altos de Pica Formation. Boreholes made near 20 ~ 00' fat. S in the centre
of the Pampa basin revealed 900 m. of similar material (MoRoojovi~, 1965).
Around 25 ~ 00' lat. S ignimbritic lava of the Augusta Victoria Group (CHoNG, G.,
personal communication) is preserved as mesetas above the Pampa basins.
In the west the Pampa sediments contain horizons of diatomaceous deposits,
and these indicate that standing water has periodically accumulated here. The
largest such area was around the lower course of the Rio Loa (21 ~ 80' lat. S)
where an ancient lake - - 'Lago Soledad' (BRi3aaEN, 1950) - - existed, and has left
terraces marking its former levels (HonnmGWORTI~, 1964). This lake, and several
smaller ones which were all dammed against the coastal mountains, has now
drained. Water still accumulates on the western edge of the Pampa however,
and has caused surface salt pans to form (TRIcART, 1966). Alluvium in the Pampa
402
C. MORTIMERand N. SARa6REND16- - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
del Tamarugal area is still occasionally added-to by mud flows from the Andes,
but the great bulk of post-Miocene sediment must have been deposited prior to
the Holocene since complete specimens of Megatherium have been found lying
at the surface of the most recent succession. The lacustrine sediments and
associated deposits which occur in a wide area adjacent to the lower and middle
course of the Rio Loa have been described by BRf2GGEN (1950) and have been
given collective status as the Loa Formation by HOLLXNaWO~TrI(1964). North of
about 23 ~ 00' lat. S the alluvial surface of the Pampa del Tamarugal, in contrast
to that of the Cordillera de la Costa, is free of commercially concentrated
nitrates. South of this region, however, the saline surface of the alluviated basins
has often been proved to contain nitrates.
North and east of Pisagua, fault traces within the Cordillera de la Costa pass
out into the alluvium of the Pampa del Tamarugal. From here however, as far
south as 23 ~ 00' lat. S, the western tracts of the Pampa are composed of alluvium
devoid of structural expression, apparently deposited as a later blanket across
original structural features. Further south the deposits of the basins have been
displaced by both longitudinal and transverse fault traces.
GAtJ~I (1967) named the regional planation surface underlying the superficial
Pampa sediments near to 20 ~ 00' lat. S as the Choja Pediplain. He considered
that this had started to form in the Oligoeene. Remobilization of faults which
dislocated the pediplain occurred after the deposition of the Rhyolite Formation,
and has produced a suite of monoclinal warps in the overlying beds (Fig. 4)
which are particularly noticeable in the Oxaya Formation, The largest such warp
has taken place over a NNE trending fault which has had a post-Oxaya For-
mation movement of at least 800 m. easterly upthrow (SALAS et al., 1966). Such
longitudinal structures in the Andean flanks have laid Paleozoic rocks against
Tertiary in the Chiapa region (19 ~ 30' lat. S, CaAVEZ, C., personal communica-
tion), whereas GALLI (1968) has mapped Paleozoic rocks on the eastern, up-
thrown side, of a similar structure in the Sierra Juan de Morales (20 ~ 00' lat. S).
ThoMAs (1967) has also mapped longitudinal fault traces which locally delimit
the boundary between the longitudinal basin and the Andean block. Other major
eastward-dipping structures have been found by RUTLAND (1971) on the eastern
borders of the southern Pampa del Tamarugal and the Calama Basin near
23 ~ 00' lat. S.
The Precordillera and Cordillera
The Cordilleran region is typified by andesitic strato-volcanoes which rise above
the Altiplano, and many lakes have developed in the intermontane basins
(Fig. 5). Most of the streams of the high Andes connect with these local base-
levels, although some of the longer channels connect with the Pampa del Tama-
rugal or the Pacific, and have been captured by Andean flank drainage. The
resulting gorges high on the Andean flanks are spectacular, the deepest incision
being of about 2000 m. in the Rio Azapa canyon east of Arica (Fig. 6).
Some 500 m. of continental sediments found on the Altiplano east of Arica
are among the oldest Tertiary stratified rocks to have been found in northernmost
Chile. Called the Putani Formation (HENRIQUEZ,1968; SALAS et al., 1966), these
probably Oligocene sediments are possibly correlateable with the Coro Coro
Formation (AHL~ELO & BRANISA, 1960) which forms a part of the Bolivian late
Mesozoic-Tertiary molasse sedimentation. Also correlated in age with the Coro
403
Aufs~itze

Fig. 4. The dissected eastern flanks of the Pampa del Tamarugal near Camifia. Mono-
elinally-warped Lower Miocene ignimbrite is overlain by darker conglomerates forming
the depositional surface of the Pampa. A narrow tongue of andesitic lava lies across
the conglomerate surface (photo no. 6598).

Coro Formation are the continental San Pedro and Tambores formations which
lie in the basin of the Salar de Atacama near 28 ~ 00' lat. S. (BR/SCGEN, 1950;
DINGMAN, 1968, 1965; HOLLINGWORTH,1964). HOLLINGWORTH• RUTLAND(1968)
considered that a part of the San Pedro Formation could be Jurassic in age.
THOMAS (1970) also suggested that the saline deposits within these rocks were of
Mesozoic age and had been diapirically injected into younger strata. The
contortions of the San Pedro Formation, untypically intense as compared with
Tertiary tectonic expressions elsewhere in northern Chile, were explained by
DINGMAN(1969., 1968, 1965) as the result of gravitational gliding. HOLLINGWORTH
(1964) noted that the sediments of the San Pedro Formation had a westward
provenance.
Unconformably deposited above the San Pedro Formatfon lie the representa-
tives of the Riolitica Formation (BROGGEN, 1950). North of the Salar de
404
C. MORTIMERand N. SARI6 RENDIC - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile

Fig. 5. The volcano Parinacota (6880 m. a. s. 1.) lying above the Lago Chungara east
of Arica (from photos 10 491 and 10 492).

405
Aufs~itze
Atacama basin the ignimbrites and gravels have been called the San Bartolo
Formation (HOLLmOWOSTa & Rt~TLAND, 1968; GUEST, 1969). RUTLAND et al.
(1965) dated some of the flows of this formation and revealed ages of between
10 and 4.25 m. y. An ignimbrite in the Tatio region (near to 22 ~ 20' lat. S) which
unconformably overlies the San Pedro Formation has since yielded a Lower
Miocene radiometric age (FauTos, J., personal communication), consequently the
Riolitica Formation in this area is now considered to have a history which
extends throughout the Neogene. The regional and chemical characteristics of
the formation have been investigated by GUEST (1969); ZEIL ~: PICHLER (1967),
and I~ICHLER• ZEIL (1972).
The uppermost beds that can be included in the Riolitica Formation of
BROGGEN (1950) are those termed by MONTECINOS(1963) the Huaillas Formation.
They are unconformable above the Oxaya Formation and infill valleys eroded
into the underlying beds (Fig. 6). The intercalated continental sediments and
ash flows are thought to be Plio-Pleistocene in age. Manganese deposits occur
locally within the Huaillas Formation (CauzAT, 1970).
Andesitic flows and cones overlie and intercalate with the Rhyolitica For-
mation, and several chemical studies have been carried out on the 'Andesite'
Formation as the stratovolcanic complexes are loosely known (PIcItLER (~: ZEIL,
1969, 1972; KATSUI& GONZALES,1968; SIEGERS, PICHLER ~K ZEIL, 1969; GUEST &
SANCrmZ, 1969). The observations have shown that the lavas of the 'Andesite'
and Riolitica formations are closely related genetically and chemically. PICHLEa
& ZEIL (1969, 1972) and ZEIL & PICHLEa (1967) have proposed that the magma
of the rhyolites resulted from fusion of the sial of the upper crust, whereas the
'Andesite' magmas formed from a partial fusion of the lower crust. JAMES (1971)
has produced evidence from Kh (DIcKENSON& HATHEaTON, 1968) and volumetric
considerations that the magmas originated near the Benioff zone by partial
melting of the underthrust slab and the mantle adjacent to it.
The excellent preservation of the volcanic landforms of the 'Andesite' For-
mation has prompted the general conclusion that these features are Quaternary.
However, both HOLLINGWOrITH(1964) and GUEST (1969) observed volcanoes older
than Mio-Pliocene ignimbrite flows, and MOaTIMER et al. (1974) have de-
monstrated that stratovolcanoes of the 'Andesite' Formation were being actively
developed in the Middle Miocene. One result of the profuse lava production has
been the local blocking of drainage, and inter-volcano basins have developed
which often contain lakes (Fig. 5) or salt pans. Sediments which have been
deposited in such environments are the youngest rocks of the region. The
youngest sediments to be described are, however, some Quaternary morainic
deposits (HOLLINGWORTH& GUEST, 1967).
KATSUI & GONZAta~S (1968) have mapped NNE trending faults in the Lago
Chungara region east of Arica, and these affect young volcanic rocks. SALASet al.
(1966) report EW faults affecting similar rocks in the same region. FaUTOS, J.
(personal communication) working in the Puchultiza and Tatio geothermal
prospect areas has noticed that in addition to a late Tertiary tensional fracturing
with a N strike, there was an episode of W N W and ENE transcurrent faults
affecting the Tertiary volcanic rocks. MILLER (1967) also saw several fault direc-
tions which he correlated with the alignement of volcanic cones. SCtlWA~ (1971)
working near to the Chilean frontier in Argentina at about 24 ~ lat. S. remarked
406
C. MOaTIX~ERand N. SA~I~ RENOI6 - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile

Fig. 6. The 2000 m. deep canyon in the headwaters of the Azapa river. The drainage in
the east has been captured by headward erosion along the canyon. Patches of the light-
coloured Huaillas Formation infill old drainage channels (photo no. 9119).

on the association of longitudinal reversed faults and outpourings of young lavas.


HOLL~NGWO~TH & RVTI,hND (1968) noted N N E trending fold axes north of the
Salar de Atacama which had been established before the deposition of the San
Bartolo Formation. Local overthrusting to the SSE occurred during the deposition
of the formation, but the major structures of the region are orientated NS.
Major approximately E W structures occur as traces on satellite photographs
and cross the whole of the width of northern Chile (Fig. 1) but their geological
presence is hard to see at ground level. SEGEnSTROM (1970) and SEGERSTROM &
TUnNEn (1972) have shown that there is limited evidence of lateral movement
along such structures.

Tectonic bases of the topography


It is generally agreed that the convergence of lithospherie plates has p r o d u c e d
the features of the Andean arc in that the ocean floor, in sliding beneath the
407
Aufs~itze
continent, has produced the negative submarine Chile Trench and the positive
Andean ranges (DIETZ, 1961; HESS, 1962; ISACKS et al., 1968; LE PICHON, 1968;
HERRON & HAYES, 1969; MORGANet al., 1969; SCHOLLet al., 1970; JAMES, 1971;
RUTLAND, 1971, and Pr.AFKER, 1972), whereas magma generation along, or asso-
ciated with a Benioff zone dipping beneath the continent, led to the volcanic
phenomena encountered in the Andean region (DICKENSON& HATHERTON,1968).
The rate of closure of the Nasca and Americas plates presently involved at the
subduction zone is as yet difficult to calculate (e. g. HERRON, 1972) and has
almost certainly varied, but estimates have been made at between 5 and 10 cm.
per year (HERRON&: HAYES,1969; MORGANet al., 1969).
There is growing evidence that features of the Andean arc have moved east-
ward with time. Both FARRAR et al. (1970) working near to 27 ~ 00' lat. S, and
GILETTI ~ DAY (1968) in southern Per6, have demonstrated eastward movement
in some Mesozoic and Cenozoic intrusive centres. This eastward drift seems to be
mirrored by extrusive igneous activity - - both FRUTOS (1970) and MORTIMER
(1973) have shown that there has been a late Cenozoic eastward movement of
the stratovolcanic complexes in areas of northern Chile. Furthermore MORTIMER
(1973) and MORTIMER et al. (1974) have demonstrated that the oldest known
representatives of the various facets of Tertiary volcanic activity lie well to the
west of the later ignimbrites and strato-volcanoes, and there would seem to have
been an association of contemporary igneous extrusive and intrusive activity
(HAMILTON, 1969) during an Andean crestal region movement to the east. There
is good evidence therefore, that there has been approximately parallel eastward
movement of the Chile Trench and Andean region, perhaps episodic (~C~UTLAND,
1971) through time. There is displacement of the order of 100 km. in the position
of the volcanic centres of the Copiap6 district (27 ~ 00' lat. S) between the
Eocene and the present (MORTIMER,1972, 1973), and it may therefore be possible
to say that the trench has moved an equivalent distance. JAMES(1971) points out,
however, that the angle of descent of the lithospheric plate could have altered,
the relative velocities of the plates could have changed, and there may have
been a progressive depression of isotherms: all phenomena which could have led
to a change in position of the volcanic centres relative to the subduction zone.
Changing conditions of isostasy could have produced other influences.
Several hypotheses have been advanced to explain the manner in which the
relative plate motion could he accommodated at the subduction zone (ScHoLL
et al., 1970; SEIFERT, 1970; LLIBOUTRY, 1969; MALAKOFF, 1970; RUTLAND, 1971;
EWING et al., 1969; LISTER, 1971, and PLAFKER, 1972) but the mechanism is far
from being resolved as the recent detailed work by voN HUENE (1972) on the
Aleutian Trench has demonstrated. However, one fundamental fact seems to
be that the leading edge of the continental plate off the greater part of Chile
is one of depletion. RUTLAND (1971, op. cir.) concluded that massive periodic-
erosion of the continental margin might have taken place. PLAFKER (1972, op.
cir.) found that the Per6-Chile arc was fundamentally different to the clearly
accretionary eastern Aleutian arc, even though both are sectors of ocean/
continent converging junctions, and he concluded that the Chilean continental
margin was one of sial erosion. SCnOLL et al. (1970), RUTLAND (1971) and
MORTIMER (1972) all concluded that there was a large amount of Paleogene sedi-
ment missing from the offshore environment of northern Chile, and this must
408
C, MORTIMERand N. SARI(~RENDIC - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
have been removed by the process of plate subduction. KATZ (1970, 1971)
working in central Chile has concluded that fault blocks of the coastal region
will ultimately disappear in response to subduction forces. Observations made on
the prolonged Tertiary subsidence of the littoral area of northern Chile (MoR-
TIMER, 1972; MORTIMER & SARIC, 1972) would seem to be further evidence in
favour of the hypothesis of continental digestion at the subduction zone some-
where near to the axis of the offshore trench.
HOLLINGWORTH • RUTLAND (1968), THOMAS (1970) and RUTLAND (1971) all
postulated compressive tectonism to be the fundamental structural control in
northern Chile. Observations in the Cordillera de la Costa have, however, re-
vealed that this is not locally apparent - - MOaTIMER & SAaI5 (1972) have shown
regional extension in the coastal mountains of Tarapac~ Province, and observa-
tions made by AaA~ASZ (1971) in the coastal region of Antofagasta Province have
shown that recent tectonism has merely involved the mutual jostelling of fault-
blocks. KATZ (1970, 1971) concluded from his work in central Chile that the
surface deformation of the overthrust continental block could easily be one
of east-west tension such that the continental margin is disintegrating into blocks.
KATZ (1971 op. cir.) concluded that surface compression would only be possible
deeper inland. This scheme will also fit the observed phenomena in northernmost
Chile, and it is herein considered that structures reflecting recent regional com-
pression in that area will only be found generally east of the Cordillera de la
Costa.
The profiles of HAYES (1966), SCHOLL et al. (1970), AaABASZ (1971), and the
depth data of the Instituto Hidrogr~fico de la Armada (1965) plotted by SILVA
(1972) (Fig. 7) demonstrate that small tectonic basins lie on the continental slope of
the submarine trench. These basins are not unlike those associated with the block-
faulting of the coastal mountains, and since the physiographic provinces of the
Cordillera de la Costa and the continental slope of the Chile Trench are in juxta-
position, the depressions of both regions probably have a common origin as
features of tensional tectonism.
The tripartite topographic divisions of northern Chile must be related to the
fundamental Andean tectonics. Observations indicate that the three major longi-
tudinal relief elements of the Cordillera de la Costa, Pampa del Tamarugal and
the Andean mass have no well defined simple major boundary structures, even
though these have been postulated to exist as, for example, by KAUSEL ~: LOM-
NITZ (1968); rather there are many longitudinal structures which tend to coincide
with, and accentuate, the margins of the physiographic provinces. LISTEN (1971)
pointed out that the plane of a low-angle thrust fault can increase in angle upon
approaching the surface and thereby produce a surface bulge above the end of
the fault. In this way the continental leading edge could be given a positive
impulse despite a general digestion of sial and/or sima at, or adjacent to, the
subduction zone. This situation would lead to the production of a superficial
tensional area in the region of the landward flank of the submarine trench. It
is suggested that the Cordillera de la Costa in northernmost Chile could well
be such a distended region restricted to the immediate leading edge of the
continental plate, whereas the longitudinal depression further to the east is a
backzone to the turn-down conditions, lying as it does between the costal mountains
and the strongly-positive Andean region.
409
Aufs~tze

S.L

))'I S.L, 19P3B'S. Punta Pichalo


{
o

Fig. 7. Profiles from sea-floor data of the Instituto Hydrografieo de la Armada (1965)
and the topographic maps of the Instituto GeogrMico Militar. Plotted by SILVA(1979,).

Although the Cordillera de ]a Costa and the sub-alluvial floor of the western
tracts of the longitudinal depression are characterised by extensional tectonism,
the Andean flank area is typified by eastward-dipping reverse faults (RUTLAND,
1971; THOMAS, 1970; HOLLINaWOnTH,1964) which reflect the fundamental com-
pression of Andean uplift. Much of the absolute altitude of the Andean chain
has been generated by movement along these structures, although regional
doming has almost certainly taken place and could locally exceed direct fault
movement in positive effect, as it appears to have done in the southern Atacama
Desert (MoBTIMSB, 1978).
BR/JOCEN (1950) maintained that the high cliff along the north Chilean coast
was a direct fault scarp. RVTLAND (1971) suggested that the cliff was a fault
scarp which had been modified by erosion in Plio-Pleistoeene time. MORTIMER
(1972) and MORTIMER & SARI6 (1972) have, however, developed the hypothesis
that the cliff was formed by wave action during a prolonged period of coastal
subsidence. Evidence for the subsidence is seen as the continental Oxaya
Formation well below sea level near Arica (KnRzULOVIf, 1968), whereas tilted la-
custrine terraces near the mouth of the Rio Loa probably substantiate the hypo-
thesis. Pliocene marine onlap sediments present in the littoral area indicate a
minimum age for the subsidence (HEBM, 1969).
410
C. MORTIMERand N. SARI6PtENDI~ - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
If sialic material is being digested and the continental margin being eroded
by lithospheric plate convergence, then the predominant movements of the
continental lithosphere near to the subduction zone must be downward. However,
between such a negative area immediately above the subduction zone and the
positive area at the leading edge of the continental plate there will be a region
of transition. In view of the nature of the megatectonic movements and the
forces involved, such a region would tend to oscillate back and forth relative to
the coast. The immediate littoral area could be expected to be within such a zone
of changeable tectonic character, and might therefore show periodic emergence,
even though the ingestion of continental material at the subduction zone has
ensured that the coastal history was of predominating subsidence involving
overall eastwards recession of the coastline. The currently-indicated and com-
paratively slight coastal emergence could be considered to be consequent upon
such a temporary migration of the prevailing negative coastal tectonic ten-
dencies. The continental slope of the Chile Trench could well have been con-
structed from a progressively downwarped and constantly developing erosional
continental shelf which has been extensively faulted during its relative translation
towards the west.
ISACKS et al. (1968), HEIRTZLER et al. (1968), HERRON • HAYES (1969) and
HERaON (1972) have shown through paleomagnetic studies of the Atlantic and
Pacific ocean floors, that the Nasca plate is moving slightly north of east relative
to the Chile Trench and the Americas plate. Such nearly opposed plate closure
seems to have prevailed throughout the Cenozoic (HEaaON, 1972), and forces
capable of initiating major strike-slip faulting in a direction parallel to the
present subduction zone could not have existed since at least the Mesozoic.
Nevertheless, the strong linearity of the Atacama Fault and the presence of
horizontal slickensides prompted ARABASZ(1971) to postulate a lateral movement
along the fault of several tens of kilometers. He recognized that lateral move-
ments have not recently taken place, and he also demonstrated (AaABASZ, 1968,
1971 op. cit.) that the Atacama Fault had had a history of predominant easterly
uplift despite the present westerly topographic upthrow. The work of LAasoN
~K PITMAN (1972) and LARSON 8~: CHASE (1972) on seafloor magnetic anomalies
would seem to indicate that during the early Cretaceous the subduction zone
along the western continental margin of South America was created not, as
now, by the opposed closure of the Americas and Nasca plates, but by the
closure of the Americas and Phoenix plates. The relative motion of the Phoenix
plate to the Americas plate appears to have been approximately SE. Under
such conditions of plate closure, potential forces for strike-slip movement along
structures approximately parallel to the present coastline could have existed.
Such potential would, however, have failed as the Phoenix-Farallon spreading axis
passed beneath the continent to give the spreading directions of the Nasca and
Americas plate closure.
The strike-slip movement deduced by ARABASZ (1971) to have taken place
along the Atacama Fault was right-lateral, whereas the sense of movement lent
by the closure of the Phoenix and Americas plates would have been left-lateral.
In any case lateral movements along the Atacama Fault were originated in
response to relative movement of the continent to an oceanic plate which has
now been completely subducted. Later easterly upthrow on the fault could have
411
Aufs~itze
occurred through remobilization of the old fracture zone as an easterly-hading
thrust fault during the late Cretaceous-early Tertiary, prior to the development
of the regional Coastal Tarapac~ Pediplain. The latest upthrow to the west is an
expression of the extensional tectonism which presently dominates the Cordillera
de la Costa.
There is growing evidence that the longitudinal (NS) morphostructural units
of northern Chile are crossed by a suite of transverse faults (Fig. 1). However,
the only major proven such fault in the area is only roughly transverse, and cuts
NW---SE from the coast to the Andes. Known as the Taltal Fault, it has had
a left-lateral displacement of 1O km. (ARABASZ, 1968) and has offset the Atacama
Fault near the town of Taltal. Other structures have been detected from satellite
photographs (SEGERSTROM, 1970; SEGERSTROM& TURNER, 1972) but have yet to
be pinpointed as fracture zones in the field. Both FRUTOS (personal communica-
tion) and CHONG (personal communication) have reported transverse strike-slip
structures whilst mapping in Antofagasta Province, and several authors, including
AHLFELD (1970) and LoczY (1970) have remarked on the structural break which
crosses the Andean chain at about the latitude of Arica - - Oruro - - Santa Cruz,
though its real effect is as yet virtually unknown. G~,NSSER (1978) has remarked
on the surprising mobility of the South American cratonic masses and the way
in which such mobility has influenced structural trends both in the continental
heartland and in the Andes. The Andean strike seems to have been changed by
relative movement of the Pampean Ranges and the Brazilian Shield along the
Chiquitos fracture zone.
Lateral movements along faults developed transverse to the axis of the sub-
duction zone could possibly be explained by the unequal adjustment of the
continental lithosphere to the compression consequent upon the plate con-
vergence. In this way some sections of the continental margin could be thrust
relatively further west than adjoining areas. Such sector variability would
produce intervening, roughly transversely-orientated, strike-slip fault zones. Such
zones would be conveniently orientated to carry, and be eroded by, the Andean
flank drainage, and the consequent alluvial cover which they would receive
would render them difficult to detect other than by remote sensing methods.

The composite Cenozoic chronology (Fig. 8)


Following the orogenesis at the close of the Mesozoic, erosion products of the
developing mountain chain were deposited as great thicknesses of Tertiary and
uppermost Cretaceous sediment in the Altiplano basin (NEwELL, 1949), but those
Paleogene sediments which must have been transported towards the Pacific from
the proto-Andean divide are missing.
Whilst the Altiplano acted as a depositional basin throughout the Paleogene,
the area now occupied by the Cordillera de la Costa and the lower flanks of the
western Andes were undergoing erosion, and by the end of the Paleogene a
regional erosion surface had been produced, the remains of which are still pre-
served in the form of the Coastal Tarapaca Pediplain and, further west, the
Choja Pediplain. Erosional products of the regional planation must have been
deposited offshore of the present coastline, and much of the sediment now in the
Altiplano basin must also have been derived from what are now the western
Andean slopes. By about the close of the Oligocene however, the regional

412
I I I I I I I I I I I

Early Tertiary

=-

La. PaL.og

6RANITIC
ROCKS
Holocene

Niocene
STRATIFIED
Paleogene ROCKS
Stratovotcanoes

Jurar~dr i Post -Miocene


I deposits
Miocene deposits
Present
I~teogene deposits I I [ I I I I {
Pre-Cenozic stratified &
1 I Pre-Mesozoic intrusive rocks horl~zontat ur~'ts of 50t~n.

Fig. 8. Schematic diagrams of the Cenozoic evolution of northernmost Chile.


Aufs/itze
drainage divide must have been translated further to the east since sedimentation
with an easterly provenance provided the alluvium of the basins of the Pampa
del Tamarugal which started to fill with both sediment and lava flows at about
the time of the Paleogene/Neogene boundary (MORTIMERet al., 1974). A reversal
in the direction of sediment transport was probably therefore experienced across
that region now represented by the high western flanks of the western Andes at
some time immediately prior to the close of the Paleogene. Sediment derived
from the west earlier in the Paleogene and deposited on the western slopes of the
early Altiplano basin might have later been remobilized and transported to the
west when the drainage divido migrated.
The commencement of sedimentation within the longitudinal depression at the
time of the Paleogene/Neogene boundary is taken to indicate that the Cordillera
de la Costa barrier was uplifted relative to the rest of the Andean system at this
time (MORTIMERet al., 1974). RUTLAND (1971) earlier recognized that this topo-
graphic differentiation did not take place much before the Miocene. Other
smaller structural units were probably defined more or less contemporaneously
with the major longitudinal relief divisions, especially the Precordilleran sierras,
which in the case of the uplift of the Cordillera Domeyko, allowed the San
Pedro Formation to accumulate in the resulting tectonic depression in the
Paleogene (I:[UTLAND,1971). The lack of similar Paleogene sedimentation in other
Preeordilleran basins in northern Chile may be taken as testimony that differen-
tiation of the topography into the presently observed distinct morphostructural
units was not significantly developed before the close of the Oligocene, although
all major structural blocks were outlined by the early Miocene. Fault movements
within the structural blocks and remobilisation of peripheral structures have
continued to take place throughout the Neogene and have continuously emphasized
the unity of each block.
During the Lower and Middle Miocene the deposition within the Pampa del
Tamarugal basin was complemented by erosion in the sediment source areas.
Since the sediment wedge thickens towards the centre of the basin, the higher
Andean flanks will have been eroded below the level of the Paleogene erosion
surface to an extent which increases with distance to the east - - although the
extrusion of volcanic flows has partially protected the underlying bedrock. Since
erosion must have rapidly followed the tectonic definition of the principal relief
features, the Paleogene landsurface was probably preserved intact as the floor
of the longitudinal depression following rapid sediment deposition.
The effect of the Neogene erosion increases towards the south. In the Cor-
dillera de la Costa, Neogene erosion has modified the remnants of the Tarapac~i
Coastal Pediplain, but the modification of the faulted Paleogene surface is slight
north of about Antofagasta. South of Antofagasta the faulted landscape is clearly
eroded, and south of Paposo Neogene planation has considerably modified the
old landscape. Neogene planation took the form of pedimentation following upon
valley side retreat in incised river channels. The greatest effect was in the
southern Ataeama Desert where a regional pediplain was formed, and which
ceased evolving by the close of the Miocene (MORTIMER,1973). Despite the effect
of the Neogene planation to the south of Antofagasta however, the Paleogene
landscape is considered to be vestigially preserved as the accordant summit
surface within the coastal mountains, although the greater part of the landscape
414
C. MORTIMERand N. SARI5RENDI~- - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile
at and south of the latitude of Paposo is probably equivalent to the Atacama
Pediplain as defined by MORTIMER(1978, O10.cit.).
During the Middle Miocene the ignimbritic flows of the Riolitica Formation
which had started to form in the Lower Miocene were augmented by lava
coming from the andesitic stratovolcanic centres in the high Andean region.
Such volcanoes constituting the 'Andesite' Formation appear to have commenced
to form in the early Middle Miocene, although they have had their maximum
development in Pliocene to recent times. During this time the production of
rhyolitic ignimbrite flows seems to have correspondingly waned.
Sometime after the close of the Middle Miocene the aggradation of the
longitudinal depression throughout the length of northern Chile virtually ceased,
and the depositional surface of the Riolitica Formation began to be dissected
by channel incision on the eastern slopes of the Pampa del Tamarugal. The
change in regime, from one of canyon formation, took place at the end of the
Miocene in the southern Atacama Desert (MoRT~MEa, 1978), and probably at
about the same time in the north. The drainage incision was encouraged by the
tectonic generation of relief and may well have been assisted by climatic change.
The volcanic outpourings led to a considerable modification of the drainage
pattern in the Andean region, and many saline lakes have developed in inter-
montane depressions. Much of the internal drainage of the Altiplano has later
been captured along its western margin following headward erosion in the
canyons developed into the Andean flanks.
During the Pliocene the sedimentary and volcanic fill of the Pampa del
Tamarugal eventually overtopped the coastal mountains towards the sea (MoR-
TIMES & SAaI6, 1972), and the canyons of the northern transverse streams were
subsequently rapidly developed across the Cordillera de la Costa, whereas lakes
on the western border of the longitudinal depression were partially or wholly
drained. The breaching of the barrier posed by the Cordillera de la Costa is
thought to have been at least partially effected by the coastal retreat which is
considered to have formed the high coastal cliff.
Some of the major transverse stream valleys and virtually all of the minor
ones fall to the coast with a marked steepening of bed gradient. Those young
transverse channels which cross the Pampa del Tamarugal in the far north may
well exhibit their near-shore convexity of profile because they were originally
graded to the depositional level of the longitudinal depression. The long, shallow
valleys south of Paposo are considered to be established streamcourses which were
maintained antecedently to the uplift of the Cordillera de la Costa in the same
manner as the major valleys of the southern Atacama Desert (MoBTIMER, 1978).
The valleys of the Paposo-Taltal area have, for the upper and middle part of
their courses, a low gradient and a regular concave-upward profile which
effectively demonstrates their antiquity and their stability in relation to the
hydrological regime. They also exhibit, however, a sudden drop to sea level - -
perhaps indicating that the channel was adjusted to a marine baselevel some way
west of the present shore. It would appear that coastal recession has translated
the baselevel of the streams to the east, whereas the downcutting power of the
stream has been too ineffective to adjust the long profile to the new position of
the coast. The relative rise in sea-level and the accompanying coastal recession
which gave rise to the cliff development took place at least during the duration
415
Aufs~itze
of the late Neogene. There has subsequently been a largely tectonically induced
relative fall in sea level which has had an unequal effect along the coast and
has led to the formation of marine abrasion terraces along the greater length of
the littoral area.
Extreme aridity has persisted throughout the Quaternary, and any climatic
changes appear to have little effect on the topography, although a lowering of
the snow line in the Andes led to the development of a few moraines below the
present firn line. Increased precipitation in the Andean region probably helped
fill some intervolcano basins with saline deposits, and mudflows into the longitu-
dinal depression may have increased in frequency at this time.
Although the general features of the central Andean arc have apparently
existed throughout the Cenozoic and the late Mesozoic as the result of a main-
tained closure of continental and oceanic lithospheric plates, the individual mor-
phostructural units would seem to have had a history of constant change in detail
of form and relative position. However, there was a major change in the physio-
graphy of northern Chile at about the time of the Paleogene/Neogene boundary,
when the onshore longitudinal relief units appear to have been established. It is
reasonable to hypothesize that the related submarine trench, although long
established as a negative feature, suffered complementary effects to the onshore
members of the arc system and developed the basis of its present form at about
the end of the Oligocene (e. g. RUTLAND, 1971). However, in light of the constant
change which it appears to have suffered, the Chile Trench is arguably only as
old as its latest morphological changes. Alternatively it could be regarded as an
older feature dating from the inception of the relative convergent plate motion
sometime in the Mesozoic.

Conclusion
During the past few years a growing number of studies on northern Chile have
led to an understanding of the basic geology. Similarly, studies of the ocean floor
have given the broad picture of lithospheric plate motion, and it is now apparent
that the history of the Andes reflects the relative movements of continent and
adjacent sea floor. Nevertheless a lack of detailed knowledge inhibits the inter-
pretati0n of all but the broadest effects of the relative plate movements.
Ironically, although there is little data available for the submarine environment
immediately west of northernmost Chile, there is - - for the Pacific basin as a
whole - - a clearer picture available for the history of the oceanic lithospheric
plates than there is for the emergent southern Americas plate. Geological
work onshore is, however, proceeding apace, and there is a growing data-bank
contributing especially to the Cenozoic chronology of the northern Chilean
Andes. Fine topographic reflections of both small and large scale tectonic move-
ments have been remarkably preserved both sub-aerialy and beneath a volcanic
cover as a direct result of the low erosion rates consequent upon the extreme
aridity, and virtually all of these features have yet to be interpreted. The lack
of erosion has allowed the retention of landscape elements and superficial rock
units which would have been destroyed even in an only marginally more pluvial
climate. The preservation of the superficial effects of tectonic disturbances gives
a unique parallel to the topography of the ocean floor, where the effects of
416
C. MORTIMERand N. SARIC RENDIC - - Cenozoic studies in northernmost Chile

tectonic disturbances are directly expressed a n d u n m o d i f i e d b y erosion, a n d it is


conceivable that studies of n o r t h e r n Chile could e v e n t u a l l y yield more facts
a b o u t the oceanic/continental lithospheric plate interface t h a n are available from
anv other region.
Acknowledgements
Professor R . W . R . RUTLAND is thanked for his critical review of the original
manuscript. The article is published by permission of the Director of the Instituto de
Investigaciones Geol6gicas, Santiago, Chile.
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420