Early to middle Tertiary foreland basin development and the history of Andean crustal shortening in Bolivia

Peter G. DeCelles, Brian K. Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


A >2.5-km-thick succession of Tertiary strata in the Eastern Cordillera of southern central Bolivia consists of predominantly fluvial and lacustrine deposits. The age of the base of the succession is middle Paleocene, and its upper part (which is erosionally truncated) is probably late Oligocene-early Miocene. The lower 50-130 m of the succession consists of interbedded fluvial sandstone and mudstone (including minor paleosols) of the Santa Lucía Formation. These strata are overlain by up to 50 m of pervasively pedogenically altered mudstone and sandstone in the upper part of the Santa Lucía Formation and lower part of the Impora Formation that may represent much of late Paleocene-Eocene time. Above the paleosol zone is a thin zone (∼10 m) of lacustrine carbonate and clastic rocks in the uppermost Impora Formation, and this in turn is overlain by a >2000-m-thick, upward- coarsening succession of clastic fluvial deposits in the Cayara, Camargo, and Suticollo Formations. Paleocurrent data indicate that fluvial channels that deposited the Santa Lucía, Impora, and Cayara Formations flowed mainly westward, whereas channels responsible for the Camargo and Suticollo Formations flowed generally eastward. Modal sandstone petrographic data show a long-term evolution from subarkosic (during Santa Lucía deposition) to quartz-arenitic (during Impora and Cayara deposition) to sublitharenitic (during Camargo and Suticollo deposition) compositions. We argue that the lithofacies and sediment-accumulation history of this succession are most consistent with deposition in an eastward-migrating foreland basin system. Critical to this interpretation is the zone of extreme stratigraphic condensation in the lower Impora Formation, the inferred upper Paleocene-Eocene part of the succession. The abrupt decrease in sediment accumulation represented by this zone is difficult to reconcile with the leading alternative model in which continuous, postrift thermal subsidence resulted in a gradual, continuous decay of early Tertiary sediment- accumulation rates. Stratigraphic condensation is, however, consistent with passage of the forebulge through the region, an interpretation that also can be reconciled with the record of foreland basin development in the Altiplano to the west and gross sediment accumulation patterns in the Subandean zone and modern foreland basin to the east. Simple flexural modeling and palinspastic reconstruction of the complete Cenozoic migration history of the foreland basin system suggest that ∼1000 km of foreland lithosphere has been underthrust westward beneath the Andean orogenic belt at the latitude of southern Bolivia. The amount of middle and lower crust that would have been added to the Andean infrastructure is sufficient to explain the present crustal thicknesses in Bolivia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003


  • Andes
  • Foldthrust belts
  • Foreland basins
  • Sedimentary petrology
  • Sedimentology
  • Tertiary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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