A seismic refraction survey of the Imperial Valley Region, California

Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
By: , and 



The U.S. Geological Survey conducted an extensive seismic refraction survey in the Imperial Valley region of California in 1979. The Imperial Valley is located in the Salton Trough, an active rift between the Pacific and North American plates. Forty shots fired at seven shot points were recorded by 100 portable seismic instruments at typical spacing of 0.5–1 km. More than 1300 recording locations were occupied, and more than 3000 usable seismograms were obtained. We analyzed five profiles using a standard ray‐tracing program, constructed a contour map of reduced travel times from our most widely recorded shot point, and modeled an existing gravity profile across the Salton Trough. Results are itemized: (1) All models have in common a sedimentary layer (Vp = 1.8–5.0 km/s), a “transition zone” (Vp = 5.0–5.65 km/s), a basement (Vp = 5.65 km/s in the Imperial Valley, 5.9 km/s on the bordering mesas), and subbasement (Vp = 7.2 km/s). (2) The sedimentary layer ranges in thickness along the axis of the Salton Trough from 3.7 km (Salton Sea) to 4.8 km (U.S.‐Mexican border). On the bordering mesas it is quite variable in thickness. (3) The “transition” zone is about 1 km thick in most places. In the Imperial Valley there are no marked velocity discontinuities in this zone between the sedimentary layer and basement. On the bordering mesas, however, there is a discontinuity at the top of this zone. (4) There are apparently two types of basement. On the bordering mesas, basement is crystalline igneous and metamorphic rocks. In the Imperial Valley, basement is mostly lower‐greenshist‐facies sedimentary rocks, based primarily on the smooth transition in character from sediment to basement arrivals, the low value of basement velocity, and the fact that deep (4 km) wells in the valley penetrate only the upper part of the known Cenozoic stratigraphic column for the Salton Trough. (5) The subbasement, or intermediate crustal layer, ranges in depth along the axis of the Salton Trough from 16 km (Salton Sea) to 10 km (U.S.‐Mexican border). Gravity modeling requires that this layer deepen and/or pinch out beneath the bordering mesas and mountain ranges. Based on its high velocity and the presence of intrusive basaltic rocks in the sedimentary section in the Imperial Valley, the subbasement is thought to be a mafic intrusive complex similar to oceanic middle crust. (6) Several structures are seen that affect basement, transition zone, and deeper parts of the sedimentary layer. They include a scarp along the Imperial fault, as much as 1 km down to the northeast, and a scarp passing roughly along the topographic boundary between the Imperial Valley and the bordering mesa to the west, as much as 3½ km down to the east. We interpret the latter scarp to be the suture, or rift boundary, between the older crystalline basement on the mesa and the younger metasedimentary basement in the Imperial Valley. (7) On a contour map of reduced travel time from our most widely recorded shot point, subtle patches of early arrivals among otherwise late arrivals in the central Imperial Valley correlate well with known geothermal resource areas having reservoir temperatures of more than 150°C. Apparently the Salton Trough is a location where new crust is being generated. As the rift opens, mafic intrusive rocks fill it from below as sedimentary rocks fill it from above. Rifting and intrusion produce high heat flow that metamorphoses the sedimentary rocks to shallow depth (metasedimentary basement in the Imperial Valley) and thus consolidates the new crust.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A seismic refraction survey of the Imperial Valley Region, California
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research B: Solid Earth
DOI 10.1029/JB089iB02p01165
Volume 89
Issue B2
Year Published 1984
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 25 p.
First page 1165
Last page 1189
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Imperial Valley Region
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