Using spatial patterns of fluvial incision to constrain continental-scale uplift in the Andes

Laura Evenstar, Anne E. Mather, Adrian Hartley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Geomorphic archives, particularly longitudinal river profiles, are increasingly used as a proxy to reconstruct uplift rates in mountainous regions. Within the Atacama Desert, Northern Chile, slow, long-term erosion creates exceptional preservation of fluvial and alluvial surfaces. This enables river incision patterns to be used on a continental-scale (>250 km) along the western margin of the Andes (18°00’S to 20°15’S) and over a time frame from Miocene to Present day. The data show marked compartmentalisation of fluvial system behaviour with changes in incision rates from south to north creating 3 distinctly different regions. Within these different sectors, incision rates are broadly consistent between rivers suggesting a regional rather than a river specific control on rates. In Sector 1 (18°05’S to 19°20’S) the fluvial systems are exorheic with a terminal base level (the lowest base level to which the river system can erode) in the Pacific Ocean and span the Coastal Cordillera, Longitudinal Valley, Precordillera and western edge of the Western Cordillera. This constrains the total uplift over these regions to a minimum of 1200 m in 11 Myr with incision rates of ~200-120 m/Myr consistent with rapid but sustained uplift of the Andes in the Late Miocene. In Sector 2 (19°20’S to 19°50’S), to the immediate south, the rivers are shorter and terminate in the Longitudinal Valley, spanning only the Longitudinal Valley, Precordillera and the western edge of the Western Cordillera with lower incision rates of 100-50 m/Myr. Comparison of incision rates between Sector 1 and 2 can constrain the uplift of the Coastal Cordillera to 60m/Myr which is in keeping with previous studies from the region. In southernmost Sector 3 (19°50’S to 20°10’S), the fluvial systems terminate in the Longitudinal Valley and span only the Longitudinal Valley and eastern part of the Precordillera with low incision rates of 50 to 25 m/Myr. Differences between Sectors 2 and 3 are attributable to drainage loss by tectonic beheading of catchments through uplift of the Cordillera de Domeyko fault system, placing a minimum constrain on uplift in this region of 50 to 25 m/Myr. This study demonstrates the applicability of large-scale fluvial archives to access not just the timing of uplift on a continental scale, but also the relative uplift of individual tectonic provinces.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number103119
    JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2020


    • Paleosurface
    • Atacama
    • Desert Pavement
    • landscape evolution
    • climate
    • base levels
    • fluvial incision
    • fluvial archives
    • terraces
    • Andes
    • Climate
    • Base levels
    • Fluvial incision
    • Desert pavement
    • Fluvial archives
    • Terraces
    • Landscape evolution


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