Crustal deformation in the south-central Andes backarc terranes as viewed from regional broad-band seismic waveform modelling

Patricia Alvarado, Susan Beck, George Zandt, Mario Araujo, Enrique Triep

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The convergence between the Nazca and South America tectonic plates generates a seismically active backarc region near 31°S. Earthquake locations define the subhorizontal subducted oceanic Nazca plate at depths of 90-120 km. Another seismic region is located within the continental upper plate with events at depths <35 km. This seismicity is related to the Precordillera and Sierras Pampeanas and is responsible for the large earthquakes that have caused major human and economic losses in Argentina. South of 33°S, the intense shallow continental seismicity is more restricted to the main cordillera over a region where the subducted Nazca plate starts to incline more steeply, and there is an active volcanic arc. We operated a portable broad-band seismic network as part of the Chile-Argentina Geophysical Experiment (CHARGE) from 2000 December to 2002 May. We have studied crustal earthquakes that occurred in the back arc and under the main cordillera in the south-central Andes (29°S-36°S) recorded by the CHARGE network. We obtained the focal mechanisms and source depths for 27 (3.5 < Mw < 5.3) crustal earthquakes using a moment tensor inversion method. Our results indicate mainly reverse focal mechanism solutions in the region during the CHARGE recording period. 88 per cent of the earthquakes are located north of 33°S and at middle-to-lower crustal depths. The region around San Juan, located in the western Sierras Pampeanas, over the flat-slab segment is dominated by reverse and thrust fault-plane solutions located at an average source depth of 20 km. One moderate-sized earthquake (event 02-117) is very likely related to the northern part of the Precordillera and the Sierras Pampeanas terrane boundary. Another event located near Mendoza at a greater depth (∼26 km) (event 02-005) could also be associated with the same ancient suture. We found strike-slip focal mechanisms in the eastern Sierras Pampeanas and under the main cordillera with shallower focal depths of ∼5-7 km. Overall, the western part of the entire region is more seismically active than the eastern part. We postulate that this is related to the presence of different pre-Andean geological terranes. We also find evidence for different average crustal models for those terranes. Better-fitting synthetic seismograms result using a higher P-wave velocity, a smaller average S-wave velocity and a thicker crust for seismic ray paths travelling through the crust of the western Sierras Pampeanas (Vp = 6.2-6.4 km s-1, Vp/Vs > 1.80, th = 45-55 km) than those of the eastern Sierras Pampeanas (Vp = 6.0-6.2 km s-1, Vp/Vs < 1.70, th 27 = 35 km). In addition, we observed an apparent distribution of reverse crustal earthquakes along the suture that connects those terranes. Finally, we estimated average P and T axes over the CHARGE period. The entire region showed P and T-axis orientations of 275° and 90°, plunging 6° and 84°, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-598
Number of pages19
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2005


  • Andes backarc
  • Continental crust
  • Earthquake-source mechanism
  • Seismotectonics
  • Subduction zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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