Canyon incision chronology based on ignimbrite stratigraphy and cut-and-fill sediment sequences in SW Peru documents intermittent uplift of the western Central Andes
Based on an 40Ar/39Ar- and U/Pb-based chronostratigraphy of ignimbrite sheets and the geomorphological features of watersheds, river profiles and slope deposits in the Ocoña-Cotahuasi-Marán (OCM) and Colca valleys of southwest Peru, we reconstruct the valley incision history of the western Central Andes over the last c. 25 Myr. We further document the Pleistocene and Holocene evolution of deep valleys on the basis of 14 10Be surface-exposure ages obtained on debris-avalanche deposits and river straths.The data suggest that uplift was gradual over the past 25 Myr, but accelerated after c. 9 Ma. Valley incision started around 11-9 Ma and accelerated between 5 and 4 Ma. Incision was followed by several pulses of valley cut-and-fill after 2.3 Ma. Evidence presented suggest that the post-5 Ma sequence of accelerated canyon incision probably resulted from a combination of drainage piracy from the Cordilleran drainage divide towards the Altiplano, accentuated flexural tilting of the Western Cordillera towards the SE, and increased rainfall on the Altiplano after late Miocene uplift of the Eastern Cordillera. The valley deepening and slope steepening driven by tectonic uplift gave rise to large occurrences of rockslope failure. The collapsed rock masses periodically obstructed the canyons, thus causing abrupt changes in local base levels and interfering with the steadiness of fluvial incision. As a result, channel aggradation has prevailed in the lower-gradient, U-shaped Pacific-rim canyons, whereas re-incision through landslide deposits has occurred more rapidly across the steeper V-shaped, upper valleys. Existing canyon knickpoints are currently arrested at the boundary between the plutonic bedrock and widespread outcrops of middle Miocene ignimbritic caprock, where groundwater sapping favouring rock collapse may be the dominant process driving headward erosion.