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Comparison of patterns of paleomagnetic poles from orogenic belts with appropriate reference poles for the craton can help to delineate important large-scale tectonic processes. Comparison of the paleomagnetic signatures of the western Cordillera of North America and the central Andes shows that the western edges of these belts have had profoundly different Mesozoic and Cenozoic histories. Specifically, the North American Cordilleran pattern shows strong evidence of post-middle Cretaceous relative northward displacement of outboard crustal blocks, but there is almost no comparable evidence of margin-parallel displacement in the Andes. We speculate that this may largely be a consequence of a simple difference in shape: the convex-westward western margin of North America facilitates margin-parallel displacement as a response to oblique subduction, whereas the concave-westward margin of South America inhibits it. The patterns of block rotations found along the western edge of the two orogens also are quite different. Nearly everywhere within the western North American Cordillera crustal blocks have rotated clockwise since mid-Cretaceous time, reflecting a pervading state of dextral shear. Within the western Andes of Peru and northern Chile, however, Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks in Peru (and northernmost Chile) are rotated strongly counterclockwise, whereas rocks of the same age in the remainder of Chile (to about latitude 48°S) are rotated clockwise. A model combining oroclinal bending and block rotations driven by oblique subduction can account for the paleomagnetic observations.

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Copyright 1994 by the American Geophysical Union

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