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Chungará (Arica)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-7356


SEYFRIED, Hartmut et al. INTRODUCCIÓN A LA GEOLOGÍA Y MORFOLOGÍA DE LOS ANDES EN EL NORTE DE CHILE. Chungará (Arica) [online]. 1998, vol.30, n.1, pp.7-39. ISSN 0717-7356.

The Andean Mountain chain is unique in its origin, its geological history, and its impact on human habitants. It was created and is maintained through the subduction of an oceanic plate underneath the Western border of the South American continent. In the first place, subduction causes the magmatic activity which is so typical of almost the entire mountain chain. Indirectly, subduction is also responsible for shortening, thickening, and uplift of the continental crust above the subduction zone. Earthquakes are another consequence of the convergence between oceanic and continental crust. Convergence has been going on for at least 200 million years. However, the High Andean Cordillera and the Altiplano as we know them today are relatively young. The Andes started to form only around 20 million years before present. Especially in the Central Andes, the uplift seems to be a self-accelerating process. Under the influence of an extremely dry climate, nothing but the shear strength of the crust would stop the further rise of the cordillera. What are the reasons for crustal thickening and uplift? Where is the connection between magmatism, volcanoes and the formation of ore deposits, which are so important for the Andean countries? This paper attempts to give some answers to these questions and tries to explain the evolution of the Andean Cordillera between the city of Arica and the Lago Chungará. During the last 20 million years, thickening of the continental crust above the subduction zone was accomplished both, by intensive magmatism and, more important, by telescopic stacking of the crust. This became possible because the crust underwent heating, and hence softening, due to the intense magmatic activity which in turn was a consequence of orthogonal, high-angle subduction since that time. Once softened in its deeper parts, the continental crust could no longer withstand the compressive forces exerted "from behind", that is, from the rigid Brasilian Shield which moves westward against the backstop of the subduction zone. However, heating had an additional consequence: in places of high heat flow, the crust became partially melted and erupted gigantic masses of magma onto the surface. One of the first flare-ups of these gigantic eruptions happened some 19 million years ago; it delivered a monstruous volume of about 3.000 km3 of magma and covered huge areas with a thick sheet of ignimbrites. An ignimbrite is the product of an explosive volcanic eruption; it is the fall-out from highly mobile flows where volcanic particles are suspended in a mixture of volcanic gas and heated air. Ever since this first flare-up, ignimbrites now and again covered parts of the Altiplano and the Western Escarpment of the Central Andes, imprinting their character to the landscape and testifying that the process of heating, thickening, and melting is still at work along the roots of the mountains. One last consequence of the increased magmatism beneath the Central Andes is the fact that in the crust above a magma chamber hot water may concentrate ore-forming elements such as copper, gold, and silver. These deposits are mined in a lot of places in the Andes and represent a considerable part of the Chilean economy. Large earthquakes, giant landslides, and huge volcanic eruptions have frequently affected the Western slope of the Central Andes. It is highly probable that similar events will occur again in future. What we do not know is: when. What science can do, is to try to foresee these things with reasonable certainty. What science can definitely not do is trying to prevent humanity from these monstruous acts of violence by nature.

Palabras clave : Andean Cordillera; tectonic; magmatism; Andean landscape formation; human habitats.

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