Understanding how map-view bends of mountain belts form and evolve is a first order Earth System problem and is the focus of the IGCP Project 574. Earth’s great mountain systems, both modern and ancient, are characterized by significant map-view bends. The origin and evolution of bends of mountain belts is central to Earth’s climatic, topographic, and tectonic evolution. The Bolivian bend (or Orocline) of the Andes is coincident with and formed at the same time as the Altiplano, Earth’s second greatest high plateau. Significant changes in Earth’s climate, including the onset of the most recent ice age, have been linked to the growth of the Altiplano. The bends (Syntaxes) adorning the western and eastern ends of the Himalaya are characterized by some of the greatest topographic relief on Earth, and are flanked by Earth’s two greatest mountains, K2 and Everest, respectively. The late Paleozoic Variscan mountain system that records formation of Pangea, is characterized by a 180° bend in the Iberian peninsula. The Iberian orocline is central to, and formed at the same time as a massive magmatic – thermal province that seeded much of the supercontinent with mineral deposits, and which, presaged Pangea’s eventual break-up by weakening the crust. Furthermore, much of Earth’s budget of mineral deposits, and its thermal evolution (and hence its potential for hydrocarbons and other energy reserves) can be related to the formation of great bends of mountain systems. An improved understanding of the processes responsible for the formation of bent mountain systems therefore promises both scientific advances and societal benefits, improving the understanding of the mechanisms and processes responsible for plate tectonics and for changes in Earth geography through time; as well as creating refined models of climate and climate evolution and increased exploration efficiency for both mineral deposits and hydrocarbon reservoirs.
There are two main research directions:
This will be achieved by a series (two per year over the five year course of the project) of field-based meetings in remote, developing regions that can provide us with access to key mountain ranges. An added benefit of this work plan is our ability to efficiently disseminate research advances and transfer knowledge into these developing regions. Key areas include:
- Determining the processes responsible for the development of bent mountain belts
- Documenting the geology and evolution of specific bends.
- Andean South America
- South-central Asia (Kazakhstan)
- the Caribbean region
- the Gondwanides, including Patagonia, the Cape belt (S. Africa) and the Tasmanides (Australia)
- the Mediterranean-Alpine domain including the Rif of Morocco and related Betics of southern Spain, the Calabrian / Sicilian region of southern Italy, the Carpathian mountains, and the Isparta Angle (Turkey)
- the Cordillera of western North America
- the Variscides of western Europe