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Nature. 2003 Oct 23;425(6960):792-7.

Cenozoic climate change as a possible cause for the rise of the Andes.

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Department of Earth Sciences, Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PR, UK.


Causal links between the rise of a large mountain range and climate have often been considered to work in one direction, with significant uplift provoking climate change. Here we propose a mechanism by which Cenozoic climate change could have caused the rise of the Andes. Based on considerations of the force balance in the South American lithosphere, we suggest that the height of, and tectonics in, the Andes are strongly controlled both by shear stresses along the plate interface in the subduction zone and by buoyancy stress contrasts between the trench and highlands, and shear stresses in the subduction zone depend on the amount of subducted sediments. We propose that the dynamics of subduction and mountain-building in this region are controlled by the processes of erosion and sediment deposition, and ultimately climate. In central South America, climate-controlled sediment starvation would then cause high shear stress, focusing the plate boundary stresses that support the high Andes.


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