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Tectonic evolution of the Salton Sea inferred from seismic reflection data


Oblique extension across strike-slip faults causes subsidence and leads to the formation of pull-apart basins such as the Salton Sea in southern California. The formation of these basins has generally been studied using laboratory experiments or numerical models1,2,3,4. Here we combine seismic reflection data and geological observations from the Salton Sea to understand the evolution of this nascent pull-apart basin. Our data reveal the presence of a northeast-trending hinge zone that separates the sea into northern and southern sub-basins. Differential subsidence (>10 mm yr−1) in the southern sub-basin suggests the existence of northwest-dipping basin-bounding faults near the southern shoreline, which may control the spatial distribution of young volcanism. Rotated and truncated strata north of the hinge zone suggest that the onset of extension associated with this pull-apart basin began after 0.5 million years ago. We suggest that slip is partitioned spatially and temporally into vertical and horizontal domains in the Salton Sea. In contrast to previous models based on historical seismicity patterns5, the rapid subsidence and fault architecture that we document in the southern part of the sea are consistent with experimental models for pull-apart basins1.

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Figure 1: Map of the Salton Sea region.
Figure 2: Salton Sea long-axis seismic reflection profile.
Figure 3: Map-view models for the tectonic evolution of the Salton Sea.


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Funding for this work was provided by the California Department of Water Resources, California Department of Fish and Game, UCSD Academic Senate, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, National Science Foundation (grants OCE-0112058 and EAR-0545250) and Southern California Earthquake Center (grant 2008-08127). We would like to thank B. Philibosian, D. Sandwell and D. Kilb for discussions, and V. Langenheim for a review.

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D.S.B. planned field surveys, collected, analysed and interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript. N.W.D. and G.M.K. planned field surveys, collected and interpreted the data and provided extensive feedback on the manuscript. A.J.H., J.M.B. and R.L.B. collected data and provided feedback on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to D. S. Brothers.

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Brothers, D., Driscoll, N., Kent, G. et al. Tectonic evolution of the Salton Sea inferred from seismic reflection data. Nature Geosci 2, 581–584 (2009).

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