Landsat TM analysis of fracture patterns: a case study from the Coastal Cordillera of northern Chile

Leech, D.P., Treloar, P.J., Lucas, N.S. and Grocott, J. (2003) Landsat TM analysis of fracture patterns: a case study from the Coastal Cordillera of northern Chile. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 24(19), pp. 3709-3726. ISSN (print) 0143-1161


Cretaceous rocks on the continental margin of northern Chile record a complex geodynamic evolution. Cycles of transtensional and transpressional deformation and of extrusive and intrusive magmatism are linked to the development of crustal-scale lineaments. The Landsat Thematic Mapper is used here as a tool to define these structural features. Geocorrected data were digitally enhanced and lineaments plotted directly from a hard copy image, thereby excluding artificial or non-geological features that might degrade the subsequent structural analysis. The lineaments were then digitised and analysed using a Weighted Moving Average (WMA) technique to suppress noise and to enhance azimuthal variation. Statistical analysis of the data reveals three lineament populations. The first is a set of NNE-trending lineaments that belong to the margin-parallel, sinistral Atacama Fault System. The second is a series of NW-trending lineaments with a similar orientation to large-scale structures identified across the South American continental plate. The third is a widely spaced set of NE-trending lineaments. The key result of this study is that lineaments identified from remotely sensed data may have orientation patterns that differ considerably from those identified by traditional geological mapping and that full structural analysis of structurally complex crustal regions will likely be incomplete without a comprehensive analysis of remotely sensed data. Although the NW-trending structures are numerically dominant on the Landsat image, they are seldom recorded at map scale and are under-represented on published geological maps. Of the 275 faults marked on the published geological map sheets, 89 are N to NNE-trending and only 88 are NW-trending. By contrast, of 841 lineaments identified from the satellite image, 455 are NW-trending and 178 are N- to NNE-trending. The lack of prior recognition of the NW-trending structures means that their importance has been underestimated in reconstructions of the geodynamic evolution of the region. In addition, as major ore deposits in the region are frequently located at intersections between two fracture systems, the recognition here of the NW-trending set of structures should illuminate future mineral exploration programmes.

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