Analysis of the South American intraplate stress field

David D. Coblentz, Randall M. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


The first-order South American intraplate stress field was modeled through a finite element analysis to evaluate the relative contribution of plate boundary forces and intraplate stress sources. The finite element mesh consisted of 3100 nodes in a network of 5993 equal-area triangular elements which provided a spatial resolution of about 1° at the equator. An important aspect of our modeling is the inclusion of topographic forces due to the cooling oceanic lithosphere along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (e.g., ridge push), the continental margins along the east coast of Brazil and Argentina, and the elevated continental crust (e.g., the Andean Cordillera). Predicted intraplate stresses for two representations of the western collisional boundary forces are evaluated: pinned collisional boundaries and applied collisional boundary forces. Constraint for the modeling was provided by information about the orientation of the maximum horizontal compressive stress, SHmax, provided by 217 stress indicators from the World Stress Map Project as well as by SHmax magnitude estimates and torque information from previous investigations. Our modeling results demonstrate that the first-order features of the observed stress field can be explained with simple tectonic models which balance the torque acting on the plate either with a fixed western margin or drag forces applied along the base of the plate. The predicted intraplate stress field is characterized by a nearly uniform E-W SHmax orientation throughout most regions of the plate, with stress magnitudes generally less than 20 MPa averaged over a 100-km-thick lithosphere. Significant perturbation of this regional stress field occurs in the western part of the plate in response to forces associated with the high topography of the Andes. Although the magnitude of the collisional boundary forces acting along the western margin remains poorly constrained, we estimate a plausible upper bound on the force per unit length acting along the Peru-Chile Trench to be about 2.5 × 1012 N m-1. While some of our models are consistent with a driving basal drag to balance the torques acting on the plate, the magnitude of the drag torque is small compared to the contribution from other sources of stress such as the ridge push force.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8643-8657
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 10 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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