Cenozoic geologic evolution of the lower Colorado River Basin, Northern Patagonia, Argentina

Carina Seitz, María I. Vélez, Gerardo M.E. Perillo


Climatic changes and eustatic sea levels have been assumed to be the most important controllers of the Colorado River alluvial fan in northern Patagonia. Although the alluvial fan occurs in a region considered tectonically stable, there are pieces of evidence that the Miocene Andean orogeny has reactivated inherited structures, with subsequent geomorphological changes that date back to the Pleistocene. Besides, the clear evidence of neotectonism in the region and their effects on the evolution of this fan, it has not been studied in detail yet. In this study, we map and analyze six sections outcropping in different terraces of the alluvial fan with the primary aim of disentangling the role of tectonism, climate and eustatic changes on the evolution of the alluvial fan. This study is part of a bigger project aimed to understand the origin of the shallow lakes occurring in northern Patagonia. Our results indicate that the alluvial fan of the Colorado River was established in the area around the Middle Pleistocene. Evidence of deformations in Miocene to Pleistocene units indicates significant neotectonism during the Upper Pleistocene. By the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, tectonism produced incision generating a set of terraces. After this time, an important climate change from semiarid to arid favored the calcretization of some terraces. By the Pleistocene-Middle Holocene, the terraces were covered by ancient eolian sediment accumulated during dry conditions. By the Middle Holocene, a broad alluvial fan developed in the region under a warmer and more humid climate generating the Alluvial Colorado River-III deposit at the T3 terrace. In the late Holocene, aggradation process was favored by a high sea level and temperate-arid climate, producing T4 terrace. At the same time, this climate condition favored the local deflation-sedimentation processes that resulted in the deposition of modern eolian deposits (mE) over the T3 terrace. The depressions generated by the deflation were, later on, occupied by shallow lakes when the climate turn more humid. Subsequently, during regressive sea level condition, ca. 2000 years BP, the T4 terrace was partially eroded and the modern alluvial plain formed.


Cenozoic sediment; Neotectonic activity; Colorado river; Argentina

How to cite this article Seitz, C., Vélez, M., and Perillo, G., 2018, Cenozoic geologic evolution of the lower Colorado River Basin, Northern Patagonia, Argentina: Andean Geology, v. 46, no. 1, p. 131-152., doi: