Climatic Controls on Alluvial Fan Activity, Coastal Cordillera, northern Chile.

Adrian John Hartley, A. E. Mather, E. J. Jolley, P. Turner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingOther contribution

48 Citations (Scopus)


A description of the distribution, drainage basin characteristics, surface morphology, depositional process and age of 64 alluvial fan systems from both flanks of the hyper-arid Coastal Cordillera of northern Chile between 22 degrees 15'S and 23 degrees 40'S is presented. The coastal fans on the western flank of the Coastal Cordillera are dominated by dcbris-flow deposits fed from steep catchments. Two drainage basin types are recognized: type A drainage basins are small (10-30 km(2)) and do not cut back beyond the main coastal watershed; and type B drainage basins are large (up to 400 km(2)) and Cut inland beyond the coastal watershed. The western Central Depression fans on the eastern flank of the Coastal Cordillera are characterized by sheetflood deposition fed from relatively shallow catchments in small drainage basins (10-50 km(2)). The surface morphology, sedimentation rates, a luminescence date and regional cosmogenic radionucleide data suggest that these fans have been inactive for at least the last 230000 years and probably for Much of the Neogene.

The principal control on fan activity in the study area is climate. The Coastal Cordillera forms an orographic barrier to recent El Nino-related precipitation events that are restricted to the western flank of the Coastal Cordillera. These events did not penetrate into the Central Depression as indicated by the inactive nature of the western Central Depression fans located 25 km east of the active coastal-fan catchments. This scenario is considered to have prevailed for much of the Neogene. Climate also controls rates of weathering on alluvial-fan surfaces. The coastal fog results in rapid salt weathering of clasts on coastal fans resulting in the production of fines, but does not penetrate into the Central Depression. Fault activity is important in controlling drainage basin size. The larger (type 13) drainage basins are commonly focused on active faults that cut the coastal watershed, facilitating drainage basin expansion. Source-area lithology is not important in controlling depositional processes. Fans on both sides of the cordillera have the same basaltic andesite and granodiorite source lithologies, yet coastal fans are dominated by debris-flow and western Central Depression fans by sheetflood deposition. A combination of chemical weathering and stream power related to gradient are considered to account for the differences in process.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeological Society London, Special Publication: Alluvial Fans: Geomorphology, Sedimentology, Dynamics.
PublisherGeological Society of London
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Bibliographical note

Geological Society London, Special Publication: Alluvial Fans: Geomorphology, Sedimentology, Dynamics.




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