Miocene drainage reversal of the Amazon River driven by plate-mantle interaction

G. E. Shephard, R. D. Müller, L. Liu, M. Gurnis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Northern South America experienced significant changes in drainage patterns during the opening of the South Atlantic Ocean. Disappearance of a mega-wetland in the western Amazonian basins was followed by the formation of the eastward-draining Amazon River, which has been attributed to Andean uplift 1-5. However, South America's westward motion over cold, dense subducted slabs implies that regional subsidence and uplift east of the Andes may have been driven by mantle convection. Here we use a coupled model of mantle convection and plate kinematics to show that dynamic subsidence of up to 40 m Myr-1 initially formed the Amazonian mega-wetland. In our model, the sustained westward motion of continental South America over subducted slabs resulted in rebound of the Amazonian mega-wetland region at rates of up to 40 m Myr-1after 30 million years ago, pair ed with continued subsidence of the eastern Amazonian sedimentary basins at 10-20 m Myr-1 The resulting progressive tilt of northern South America to the east enabled the establishment of the Amazon River, suggesting that mantle convection can profoundly affect the evolution of continental drainage systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)870-875
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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