Volcanic history reconstruction in northern Ecuador: insights for eruptive and erosion rates on the whole Ecuadorian arc

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In the northern Andes, the Ecuadorian arc presents a large number of Quaternary volcanoes, spread over a rather restricted area. The origin of this volcanic clustering is not well understood, and only a few chronological data older than the Holocene are available in northern Ecuador to document the arc development stages. In this study, we present new K-Ar ages obtained on lava flow and pumice samples for Cushnirumi, Mojanda, Fuya Fuya, Imbabura, Cubilche, and Cusín volcanoes, located about 40 km north of Quito, the Ecuador’s capital city. Our results show that the volcanic activity in the northern part of the Ecuadorian arc started at least at ~ 1 Ma and that construction of volcanoes mainly occurred during the last 500 ka. Together with the radiometric data, numerical reconstructions of the paleomorphology of the volcanoes are used to estimate the volume of emitted magmas and the amount of eroded material in order to quantify their eruptive and erosion rates. Emission rates of Ecuadorian volcanoes range between < 0.2 and 3.6 ± 2.1 km3/kyr. Highest rates are obtained for volcanoes constructed over time periods shorter than 100 kyr by sporadic eruptive pulses, whereas lowest rates are calculated over longer periods that include quiescence phases. Erosion rates range between 0.02 ± 0.01 and 0.14 ± 0.09 km3/kyr and highlight that volcanic edifices whose activity ended recently are rapidly dismantled by physicochemical processes. Finally, the spatial distribution of Quaternary volcanoes as well as the spatio-temporal evolution of lava geochemistry may reflect the progressive influence of the Carnegie Ridge at depth.

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The authors are grateful to Pablo Grosse, an anonymous reviewer and the associate editor for their constructive comments and useful suggestions that helped us to improve the clarity of this paper. We wish to thank the Instituto Geofísico (Escuela Politécnica Nacional) of Quito and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) for their support during field work and sampling. We are particularly grateful to Daniel Andrade and Alexandra Alvarado for their samples from Imbabura (IMB71), Cubilche (IMB54A) and Fuya Fuya (G-0001), as well as Valérie Godard for having manufactured all the thin sections. This study was financially supported by the INSU CNRS TelluS Aleas ([INSU 2016-ALEAS]) and IRD programs, through the Laboratoire Mixte International (LMI) project entitled “Séismes et Volcans dans les Andes du Nord” ([2012-16 LMI SVAN IRD]), and by the French Government Laboratory of Excellence initiative n°ANR-10-LABX-0006, the Région Auvergne and the European Regional Development Fund. This is LGMT contribution number 154 and Laboratory of Excellence ClerVolc contribution number 388.

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Correspondence to Xavier Quidelleur.

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The Quaternary volcanic activity of northern Ecuador started at least at ~ 1 Ma.

Volcanoes grew during sporadic activity pulses separated by quiescence periods.

Erosion processes depend on the exposure duration and on rock weathering.

The volcanism spatial distribution may be related to the Carnegie Ridge subduction.

Eruptive rates do not seem to be linked to the plate convergence velocity.

Editorial responsibility: R. Cioni; Deputy Executive Editor: J. Tadeucci

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Bablon, M., Quidelleur, X., Samaniego, P. et al. Volcanic history reconstruction in northern Ecuador: insights for eruptive and erosion rates on the whole Ecuadorian arc. Bull Volcanol 82, 11 (2020).

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  • Ecuador
  • K-Ar dating
  • Volcanic arc
  • Eruptive rates
  • Erosion
  • Volumes