Marine terraces of the last interglacial period along the Pacific coast of South America (1° N–40° S)

Freisleben, Roland; Jara-Muñoz, Julius; Melnick, Daniel; Martínez, José Miguel; Strecker, Manfred R.

Tectonically active coasts are dynamic environments characterized by the presence of multiple marine terraces formed by the combined effects of wave erosion, tectonic uplift, and sea-level oscillations at glacial-cycle timescales. Well-preserved erosional terraces from the last interglacial sea-level highstand are ideal marker horizons for reconstructing past sea-level positions and calculating vertical displacement rates. We carried out an almost continuous mapping of the last interglacial marine terrace along inline-formula∼ 5000 km of the western coast of South America between 1inline-formula N and 40inline-formula S. We used quantitatively replicable approaches constrained by published terrace-age estimates to ultimately compare elevations and patterns of uplifted terraces with tectonic and climatic parameters in order to evaluate the controlling mechanisms for the formation and preservation of marine terraces and crustal deformation. Uncertainties were estimated on the basis of measurement errors and the distance from referencing points. Overall, our results indicate a median elevation of 30.1 m, which would imply a median uplift rate of 0.22 m kyrinline-formula−1 averaged over the past inline-formula∼ 125 kyr. The patterns of terrace elevation and uplift rate display high-amplitude (inline-formula∼ 100–200 m) and long-wavelength (inline-formula∼ 10inline-formula2 km) structures at the Manta Peninsula (Ecuador), the San Juan de Marcona area (central Peru), and the Arauco Peninsula (south-central Chile). Medium-wavelength structures occur at the Mejillones Peninsula and Topocalma in Chile, while short-wavelength (inline-formula< 10 km) features are for instance located near Los Vilos, Valparaíso, and Carranza, Chile. We interpret the long-wavelength deformation to be controlled by deep-seated processes at the plate interface such as the subduction of major bathymetric anomalies like the Nazca and Carnegie ridges. In contrast, short-wavelength deformation may be primarily controlled by sources in the upper plate such as crustal faulting, which, however, may also be associated with the subduction of topographically less pronounced bathymetric anomalies. Latitudinal differences in climate additionally control the formation and preservation of marine terraces. Based on our synopsis we propose that increasing wave height and tidal range result in enhanced erosion and morphologically well-defined marine terraces in south-central Chile. Our study emphasizes the importance of using systematic measurements and uniform, quantitative methodologies to characterize and correctly interpret marine terraces at regional scales, especially if they are used to unravel the tectonic and climatic forcing mechanisms of their formation. This database is an integral part of the World Atlas of Last Interglacial Shorelines (WALIS), published online at (Freisleben et al., 2020).



Freisleben, Roland / Jara-Muñoz, Julius / Melnick, Daniel / et al: Marine terraces of the last interglacial period along the Pacific coast of South America (1° N–40° S). 2021. Copernicus Publications.


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