Dextral shear, terrane accretion and basin formation in the Northern Andes: best explained by interaction with a Pacific-derived Caribbean Plate?
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The structure, stratigraphy and magmatic history of northern Peru, Ecuador and Colombia are only adequately explained by Pacific-origin models for the Caribbean Plate. Inter-American models for the origin of the Caribbean Plate cannot explain the contrasts between the Northern Andes and the Central Andes. Persistent large magnitude subduction, arc magmatism and compressional deformation typify the Central Andes, while the Northern Andes shows back-arc basin and passive margin formation followed by dextral oblique accretion of oceanic plateau basalt and island arc terranes with Caribbean affinity. Cretaceous separation between the Americas resulted in the development of a NNE-trending dextral–transpressive boundary between the Caribbean and northwestern South America, becoming more compressional when spreading in the Proto-Caribbean Seaway slowed towards the end of the Cretaceous. Dextral transpression started at 120–100 Ma, when the Caribbean Arc formed at the leading edge of the Caribbean Plate as a result of subduction zone polarity reversal at the site of the pre-existing Trans-American Arc, which had linked to Central America to South America in the vicinity of the present-day Peru–Ecuador border. Subsequent closure of the Andean Back-Arc Basin resulted in accretion of Caribbean terranes to western Colombia. Initiation of flat-slab subduction of the Caribbean Plate beneath Colombia at about 100 Ma is associated with limited magmatism, with no subsequent development of a magmatic arc. This was followed by northward-younging Maastrichtian to Eocene collision of the trailing edge Panama Arc. The triple junction where the Panama Arc joined the Peru–Chile trench was located west of present-day Ecuador as late as Eocene time, and the Talara, Tumbes and Manabi pull-apart basins directly relate to its northward migration. Features associated with the subduction of the Nazca Plate, such as active calc-alkaline volcanic arcs built on South American crust, only became established in Ecuador, and then Colombia, as the triple junction migrated to the north. Our model provides a comprehensive, regional and testable framework for analysing the as yet poorly understood collage of arc remnants, basement blocks and basins in the Northern Andes.