An active oceanic spreading ridge is being subducted beneath the South American continent at the Chile Triple Junction. This process has played a major part in the evolution of most of the continental margins that border the Pacific Ocean basin. A combination of high resolution swath bathymetric maps, seismic reflection profiles and drillhole and core data from five sites drilled during Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 141 provide important data that define the tectonic, structural and stratigraphic effects of this modern example of spreading ridge subduction.A change from subduction accretion to subduction erosion occurs along-strike of the South American forearc. This change is prominently expressed by normal faulting, forearc subsidence, oversteepening of topographic slopes and intensive sedimentary mass wasting, overprinted on older signatures of sediment accretion, overthrusting and uplift processes in the forearc. Data from drill sites north of the triple junction (Sites 859 - 861) show that after an important phase of forearc building in the early to late Pliocene, subduction accretion had ceased in the late Pliocene. Since that time sediment on the downgoing oceanic Nazca plate has been subducted. Site 863 was drilled into the forearc in the immediate vicinity of the triple junction above the subducted spreading ridge axis. Here, thick and intensely folded and faulted trench slope sediments of Pleistocene age are currently involved in the frontal deformation of the forearc. Early faults with thrust and reverse kinematics are overprinted by later normal faults.The Chile Triple Junction is also the site of apparent ophiolite emplacement into the South American forearc. Drilling at Site 862 on the Taitao Ridge revealed an offshore volcanic sequence of Plio-Pleistocene age associated with the Taitao Fracture Zone, adjacent to exposures of the Pliocene-aged Taitao ophiolite onshore. Despite the large-scale loss of material from the forearc at the triple junction, ophiolite emplacement produces a large topographic promontory in the forearc immediately after ridge subduction, and represents the first stage of forearc rebuilding.
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