Analysis of flexural isostasy of the northern Andes

German Yury Ojeda, Florida International University


The mode in which a lithosphere plate supports overlying topography is greatly driven by the strength of the plate. By analyzing the geophysical signature of lithosphere flexure, in the space and spectral domains, the strength of the plates that support the north Andean mountains and adjacent basins, and the topography of Kenya was investigated. In addition, the effect of windowing on elastic thickness estimates obtained via the coherence method was evaluated. The coherence between the topography and Bouguer gravity spectra of northern South America suggests that the average elastic thickness of the lithosphere is 30 km. Although lateral variations were not resolved by the coherence implementation, these became apparent by modeling the foreland stratigraphy of the Llanos, Barinas and Maracaibo sub-Andean basins. Flexural models reveal a zone of lithosphere weakness beneath the eastern flank of the Eastern Cordillera and western flank of the Venezuelan Andes. The gravity anomaly calculated from these models is consistent with the observed Bouguer gravity anomaly. This zone of weakness appears to separate the strong, old Guyana shield lithosphere from the weaker and probably younger Andean lithosphere. The zone of weakness may correspond to a Paleozoic feature at the western margin of cratonic South America, or a Mesozoic rift arm that weakened the proto-Andean lithosphere. Using synthetic data as well as the northern South America topography and gravity, this study demonstrates that lithosphere strength calculated from the coherence of mirrored data may overestimate the true lithosphere strength. As a result, many lithosphere plates may be weaker than currently thought. In light of this observation, gravity and topography data from Kenya were reevaluated using multitaper spectral techniques. The elastic thickness of this plate, currently undergoing rifting, was estimated at 7 to 8 km, a factor of 2 less than previously estimated. These estimates suggest that despite intense fracturing and sustained tensile stresses, continental lithosphere plates undergoing rifting are able to retain some strength.

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Recommended Citation

Ojeda, German Yury, "Analysis of flexural isostasy of the northern Andes" (2000). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI9991550.