Tracing hotspot traces in the Andes

Rex H. Pilger


Two segments of subduction of the Nazca plate beneath the South American plate occur at low angles based on seismic hypocenter locations, approaching nearly horizontal below ~100 km in depth. In contrast with most of the rest of the subduction zone, the two segments, beneath central Chile, and central and northern Peru, lack active volcanoes along the crest of the Andes and have more subdued topography to the east of the Andean crest. Each low-angle subduction segment occurs to the east of the intersection of inferred mantle hotspot traces on the Nazca plate with the Peru-Chile Trench: the Nazca ridge (at the southern part of the Peruvian segment), and the Juan Fernández island-seamount chain (offshore the Chilean segment). A third inferred trace, the Galápagos-Carnegie ridge, may be correlated with a zone on incipient low-angle subduction beneath Colombia.
The importance of such hotspot traces in contributing to low-angle subduction beneath the Andes is strengthened by updated South American-Nazca plate reconstructions, including three oceanic hotspot traces, in comparison with a new isotopic date compilation of igneous rocks from the mountain range. The Juan Fernández hotspot trace, reconstructed from Pacific-hotspot models to the Nazca-Farallon plate, encountered the subduction zone offshore southern Peru ~65 Ma, broadening arc volcanism to the east; the trace-trench intersection migrated gradually and then rapidly southward, widening the arc east to Bolivia and northern Argentina; it then stabilized about 13 Ma offshore central Chile, producing the contemporary low-angle Pampean segment. The Juan Fernández hotspot may also have been responsible for formation of the Manihiki Plateau on the Pacific plate much earlier, ~125 Ma. The Easter-Nazca hotspot trace intersected the subduction zone beneath Colombia before ~50 Ma and migrated southward beneath Ecuador beginning ~15 Ma, with progressive low-angle subduction implied by migrating volcanic cessation along the Andean crest to southern Peru. The Galápagos-Carnegie hotspot trace only recently encountered the subduction zone, apparently inducing a new low-angle segment and cessation of magmatism in Colombia. The reconstructions and magmatic history provided here strongly support a previously proposed genetic relationship of hotspot traces and low-angle subduction. Additionally, the reconstructions suggest remnants of older subducted traces in the asthenosphere may have sourced post-rift magmatism in eastern Brazil and Paraguay, which cannot be explained otherwise by simple hotspot mechanisms.


Andes; Subduction; Volcanism; Hotspots; Plate reconstructions

How to cite this article Pilger, R. 2024, Tracing hotspot traces in the Andes. Andean Geology 51 (1) : 1-62. .