Middle Miocene closure of the Central American Seaway

Science  10 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6231, pp. 226-229
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2815

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Early closing between oceans

The Central American Seaway, which once separated the Panama Arc from South America, may have closed 10 million years earlier than is believed. Montes et al. report that certain minerals of Panamanian provenance began to appear in South America during the Middle Miocene, 15 to 13 million years ago (see the Perspective by Hoorn and Flantua). The presence of the minerals indicates that rivers were flowing from the Panama Arc into the shallow marine basins of northern South America. One interpretation of this finding is that large-scale ocean flow between the Atlantic and Pacific had ended by then. If this is true, then many models of paleo-ocean circulation and biotic exchange between the Americas need to be reconsidered.

Science, this issue p. 226; see also p. 186


Uranium-lead geochronology in detrital zircons and provenance analyses in eight boreholes and two surface stratigraphic sections in the northern Andes provide insight into the time of closure of the Central American Seaway. The timing of this closure has been correlated with Plio-Pleistocene global oceanographic, atmospheric, and biotic events. We found that a uniquely Panamanian Eocene detrital zircon fingerprint is pronounced in middle Miocene fluvial and shallow marine strata cropping out in the northern Andes but is absent in underlying lower Miocene and Oligocene strata. We contend that this fingerprint demonstrates a fluvial connection, and therefore the absence of an intervening seaway, between the Panama arc and South America in middle Miocene times; the Central American Seaway had vanished by that time.

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