Journal of Iberian Geology

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 207–224 | Cite as

Neotectonic controls and stream piracy on the evolution of a river catchment: a case study in the Agua de la Peña River basin, Western Pampean Ranges, Argentina

  • Laura P. Perucca
  • Karen Espejo
  • María Yanina Esper Angillieri
  • Martín Rothis
  • Flavia Tejada
  • Mariana Vargas
Research Paper



The La Peña River basin is located to the northeast of the province of San Juan, and crosses from east to west, the entire northern portion of the sierra de Valle Fértil, in Western Pampean Ranges. The strong relief of the mountain range is attributed to neotectonic activity of the NW trending Valle Fértil fault. The purpose of this study is to interpret the geological control on the dynamic drainage organization and the relevant neotectonic tilt due to the above-mentioned fault and to the NE trending El Alto fault. In addition, to identify stream piracy due to neotectonic activity of the Valle Fértil and El Alto faults in this river basin.


We analyze the influence of tectonics in the evolution and shaping up of the present day Agua de La Peña River drainage basin, using geomorphic indices and markers. Several morphotectonic parameters obtained for the Agua de La Peña River basin allow us to determine the inference of tectonic deformation along the river profile. The regional morphometric analysis relies on four topographical swath profiles to identify several regional topographic features and anomalies. We examine the main river channel and tributaries in terms of their longitudinal profiles and knickpoints distribution in order to explore the signal of transient geomorphic response to river capture.


Our results show the main control of neotectonics on the local topography and drainage network. Based on the foregoing, we infer that the landscape in northern portion of sierra de Valle Fértil is in a transient state derived from a combination between drainage arrangement and relief rejuvenation, and so, river basin features are mainly caused by divide migration, drainage network adjustments and catchment capture due to neotectonism. It may result from the tectonic adjustment of Valle Fértil and El Alto faults since the Pleistocene until the present day.


We conclude that reorganization of drainage lines by capture and reversal drainage by neotectonic activity could explain the unusual pattern of this river basin.


Agua de La Peña River basin Stream piracy Morphotectonic indices Neotectonic 



La cuenca del río Agua de La Peña está ubicada al noreste de la provincia de San Juan, y atraviesa de este a oeste, toda la porción norte de la sierra de Valle Fértil, en las Sierras Pampeanas Occidentales. El fuerte relieve de la sierra de Valle Fértil se atribuye a la actividad neotectónica de la falla Valle Fértil ubicada en su flanco occidental y con rumbo NO. El propósito de nuestro estudio es interpretar el control geológico sobre la red de drenaje de la cuenca y el basculamiento neotectónico de la misma debido a la estructura antes mencionada y a la falla El Alto, de rumbo NE. También se ha identificado un el evento de captura fluvial en esta cuenca hidrográfica debido a la actividad neotectónica de dichas fallas.


En este estudio, se analiza la influencia de la tectónica en la evolución y modelización de la actual cuenca del río Agua de La Peña, a través del uso de índices y marcadores geomorfológicos. Los diversos parámetros morfotectónicos obtenidos para la cuenca del río Agua de La Peña permiten determinar la influencia de la deformación tectónica a lo largo del perfil del río. El análisis morfométrico regional se basa en la construcción de cuatro perfiles topográficos swath con el fin de identificar diversas características topográficas regionales y anomalías. Para analizar la señal de la respuesta geomorfológica transitoria a la captura fluvial, se ha evaluado el canal principal del río y sus afluentes en términos de sus perfiles longitudinales y de distribución de los knickpoints.


Nuestros resultados muestran el control de la neotectónica sobre la topografía local y la red de drenaje. Sobre la base de lo anterior, inferimos que el paisaje en la porción norte de la sierra de Valle Fértil se encuentra en un estado transitorio derivado de una combinación entre el diseño del drenaje y el rejuvenecimiento del relieve. Las características de la cuenca son causadas principalmente por la migración de la divisoria y la captura de la cabecera debido a la actividad tectónica reciente. Esto puede ser el resultado del ajuste tectónico de las fallas de Valle Fértil y El Alto desde el Pleistoceno hasta la actualidad.


Que la reorganización de las líneas de drenaje debido a la captura e inversión del drenaje debido a la actividad tectónica cuaternari podrían explicar el diseño inusual de esta cuenca fluvial.

Palabras clave

Cuenca del río Agua de La Peña Captura fluvial Índices morfotectónicos Neotectónica 



The present contribution was funded through Projects 1E/750 CS-CICITCA, PIP CONICET and PICTO 2009 UNSJ-0013- Préstamo BID. We thank Douglas Burbank, the anonymous reviewers and Iberian Geology Editor Pedro Alfaro for constructive criticism and thoughtful reviews, which greatly improved our study.


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Copyright information

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura P. Perucca
    • 1
    • 2
  • Karen Espejo
    • 1
    • 2
  • María Yanina Esper Angillieri
    • 1
  • Martín Rothis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Flavia Tejada
    • 1
  • Mariana Vargas
    • 2
  1. 1.INGEO-CIGEOBIO, Gabinete de Neotectónica y Geomorfología. Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de San Juan, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Tecnológicas (CONICET)San JuanArgentina
  2. 2.Departamento Geología, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, Universidad Nacional de San JuanSan JuanArgentina

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