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The Northern Andes


Central ANdes
Central Andes

Coincident with most of the Cenozoic Era (i.e., about the past 65 million years) has been the Andean orogeny, the most significant geologic event of the era. The mountain ranges, however, display some of the same features found in the previous orogenies that developed along the western continental margin, such as the classical Andean volcanic belt, the east-vergence sub-Andean thrust and fold belt, and a series of cordilleras trending parallel to the Pacific oceanic trench. These features are a response to subduction of the ocean crust that was accelerated by the opening of the South Atlantic; and this subduction overshadows all other geomorphic processes along South America’s Pacific margin.

The Andean orogeny has three distinct segments, each of which developed in a different geologic setting. The segments are differentiated by their relative abundances of Mesozoic-Cenozoic, metamorphic, and oceanic rocks and are divided into Northern, Central and Southern sectors.

North of the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador and Colombia, a series of accreted oceanic terranes (discrete allochthonous fragments) have developed that constitute the Baudo, or Coastal, Mountains and the Cordillera Occidental. They were accreted during Cretaceous and early Cenozoic times. Structurally composed of oceanic volcanic arcs that were amalgamated after each collision by high-angle, west-verging thrusts, the Northern Andes are characterized by the heavily deformed metamorphic rocks and ophiolitic suites that developed during these collisional episodes. During mid-Cenozoic times, a continental magmatic arc was formed between the eastern and western cordilleras

Farther east, the Andes of Venezuela (the Caribbean Andes) resulted from the collision of the Caribbean and South American plates during Cretaceous times. This complex setting developed a series of wrench faults and related basins east of Bucaramanga (Colombia) and north of the Orinoco River delta (Venezuela). One of these basins, now occupied by Lake Maracaibo, has the largest accumulation of hydrocarbon deposits so far discovered in South America.

The Central Andes


The Central Andes lie between the Gulfs of Guayaquil and Penas and thus encompass southern Ecuador, Peru, western Bolivia, and northern and central Argentina and Chile. They are characterized by their continental basement rocks and by an absence of oceanic and metamorphic rocks. The formation of the Central Andes was determined by subduction processes that occurred in the absence of major plate collisions. A period of crustal extension prevailed from the Jurassic Period (about 200 to 145 million years ago) to Early Cretaceous times, when important volcanic piles and plutonic rocks were emplaced. Back-arc basins developed in the sub-Andean regions, controlled by extensional faulting that occurred at about the same time the South Atlantic was opening.

The middle of the Cretaceous in the Central Andes was marked by a change in tectonic activity—from crustal extension to crustal compression. This change was related to an increase in the convergence rate between South America and the adjacent oceanic plate, which initiated the formation of a series of sub-Andean foreland basins from Colombia to central Argentina. Within these basins are now concentrated most of the petroleum resources of the Andean countries. Since Cretaceous times the Central Andes have been characterized by considerable volcanism along the axis of the principal cordillera. Andesites, basalts, and rhyolites have been the major rock types to result from this activity, with some granitoids as well. Most of the gold and copper mined in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile comes from these formations. Britannica "South America" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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