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Quaternary of Chile: The State of Research

  • Roland P. Paskoff (a1)
Abstract

The aim of this paper is to present a summary of current knowledge about Quaternary climatic changes, sea level fluctuations, tectonic deformation, and volcanic activity in Chile. In the Andean highlands of the hyperarid desert, glaciers and lakes fluctuated repeatedly. Evidence of pluvial periods is not well documented in the marginal desert. On the contrary, pronounced climatic changes are recorded in semiarid Chile. In central Chile two or three major glacial advances have been identified, but they remained confined within the high Cordillera. In the longitudinal valley of the Lake Region geomorphic remnants of four glaciations have been described; 14C dates are available for the last glaciation. The glacial history of the Fjord Region is still obscure. Whether Pleistocene climatic changes in the northern and southern part of Chile were synchronous or not is a problem which requires further investigation. Sea level fluctuations along the Chilean coast are in part ascribed to glacio-eustatic effects. They left striking sets of step-like marine terraces in northern and central Chile. From a paleontologic point of view the Pleistocene corresponds to a pronounced move toward isolation and endemic development of the marine fauna. The Quaternary tectonic tendency seems to be toward extension and not compression expected as sea-floor spreading compensation. Normal faults limiting uplifted, downwarped, and tilted blocks are common. Folds are rarely found. Northern Chile is characterized by an imposing chain of about 600 stratovolcanoes. They rest on Tertiary ignimbrites which cover the altiplano. Quartz-bearing latite-andesites are predominant. Present volcanic activity is sporadic and weak. South of a conspicuous gap between 27 and 33°S, Quaternary volcanism reappears in the high Cordillera, and many volcanoes have erupted violently within historic times. Rocks are fundamentally andesite or basaltic andesite. Poorly sorted ashes including pumice clasts in the Central Valley south of Santiago are interpreted as volcanic mudflows of late Pleistocene age.

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