Lithospheric evolution of the Andean fold-thrust belt, Bolivia, and the origin of the central Andean plateau

Nadine McQuarrie, Brian K. Horton, George Zandt, Susan Beck, Peter G. DeCelles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

170 Scopus citations


We combine geological and geophysical data to develop a generalized model for the lithospheric evolution of the central Andean plateau between 18° and 20° S from Late Cretaceous to present. By integrating geophysical results of upper mantle structure, crustal thickness, and composition with recently published structural, stratigraphic, and thermochronologic data, we emphasize the importance of both the crust and upper mantle in the evolution of the central Andean plateau. Four key steps in the evolution of the Andean plateau are as follows. 1) Initiation of mountain building by ∼70 Ma suggested by the associated foreland basin depositional history. 2) Eastward jump of a narrow, early fold-thrust belt at 40 Ma through the eastward propagation of a 200-400-km-long basement thrust sheet. 3) Continued shortening within the Eastern Cordillera from 40 to 15 Ma, which thickened the crust and mantle and established the eastern boundary of the modern central Andean plateau. Removal of excess mantle through lithospheric delamination at the Eastern Cordillera-Altiplano boundary during the early Miocene appears necessary to accommodate underthrusting of the Brazilian shield. Replacement of mantle lithosphere by hot asthenosphere may have provided the heat source for a pulse of mafic volcanism in the Eastern Cordillera and Altiplano at 24-23 Ma, and further volcanism recorded by 12-7 Ma crustal ignimbrites. 4) After ∼20 Ma, deformation waned in the Eastern Cordillera and Interandean zone and began to be transferred into the Subandean zone. Long-term rates of shortening in the fold-thrust belt indicate that the average shortening rate has remained fairly constant (∼8-10 mm/year) through time with possible slowing (∼5-7 mm/year) in the last 15-20 myr. We suggest that Cenozoic deformation within the mantle lithosphere has been focused at the Eastern Cordillera-Altiplano boundary where the mantle most likely continues to be removed through piecemeal delamination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-37
Number of pages23
Issue number1-4 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Apr 27 2005



  • Central Andes
  • Crustal structure
  • Fold-thrust belts
  • Foreland basins
  • Plateaus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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