We present a velocity field for northwestern South America and the southwest Caribbean based on GPS Continuously Operating Reference Stations in Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela. This paper presents the first comprehensive model of North Andean block (NAB) motion. We estimate that the NAB is moving to the northeast (060°) at a rate of 8.6 mm/yr relative to the South America plate. The NAB vector can be resolved into a margin-parallel (035°) component of 8.1 mm/yr rigid block motion and a margin-normal (125°) component of 4.3 mm/yr. This present-day margin-normal shortening rate across the Eastern Cordillera (EC) of Colombia is surprising in view of paleobotanical, fission-track, and seismic reflection data that suggest rapid uplift (7 km) and shortening (120 km) in the last 10 Ma. We propose a “broken indenter” model for the Panama-Choco arc, in which the Choco arc has been recently accreted to the NAB, resulting in a rapid decrease in shortening in the EC. The Panama arc is colliding eastward with the NAB at approximately 15–18 mm/yr, and the Panama-Choco collision may have been responsible for much of the uplift of the EC. The present on-going collision poses a major earthquake hazard in northwestern Colombia from the Panama border to Medellin area. Since the northeastward margin-parallel motion of the NAB is now greater than the rate of shortening in the EC, northeast trending right-lateral strike-slip faulting is the primary seismic hazard for the 8 million inhabitants of Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. There continues to be a high risk of a great megathrust earthquakes in southern Colombia along the Ecuador-Colombia trench. Trench earthquakes have only released a fraction of the energy accumulated in the Ecuador-Colombia trench since the 1906 Ecuador earthquake, and interseismic strain is accumulating rapidly at least as far north as Tumaco, the rupture area of the 1979 earthquake.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Earth-Surface Processes