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Stratigraphy, Structure, and Geologic and Coastal Hazards in the Peñuelas to Salinas Area, Southern Puerto Rico: A Compendium of Published Literature

By Jesús Rodríguez-Martínez


In cooperation with the


Open-File Report 2007-1259


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The Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority has proposed construction of a pipeline to convey natural gas from the municipio of Peñuelas to the Aguirre thermoelectric power plant in the municipio of Salinas in southern Puerto Rico. To ensure that the geologic conditions along the possible routes do not represent a threat to the physical integrity of the natural gas pipeline, and thus comply with State and Federal regulations, the Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority requested the U.S. Geological Survey to provide a synthesis of published literature of the geology of the coastal plain in the Peñuelas to Salinas area.

The study area is located in part of the Southern Coastal Plain of Puerto Rico. In the area that extends from the municipio of Peñuelas eastward to the Laguna de las Salinas at Ponce, a distance of about 5 miles, the study area is underlain by middle Tertiary carbonate units. Eastward from the Laguna de las Salinas to the pipeline terminus at the Aguirre power plant in Salinas, a distance of about 30 miles, the terrain is underlain by fan-delta deposits of Quaternary age. The carbonate units and the fan-delta deposits are underlain by early Tertiary and older-age volcaniclastics with subordinate sedimentary rocks and lavas. The Great Southern Puerto Rico Fault Zone is the principal geologic structural feature in southern Puerto Rico. At present, the Great Southern Puerto Rico Fault Zone is considered largely quiescent, although it apparently is associated with minor earthquakes. There is no evidence of terrestrial, late Quaternary faulting within the Peñuelas to Salinas area. Seismic activity in this area mostly originates from extension zones of more distal shallow sources such as Mona Canyon to the northwest and the Anegada Trough northeast of the island of Puerto Rico. The magnitude of completeness of earthquakes in the study area ranges from 2.0 to 2.5. The seismic density for the southern coast including the study area is about 0.128 earthquakes per square mile, which is close to the average for southwestern Puerto Rico.

The estimated maximum peak ground acceleration most likely to occur in the study area, due to shallow depth seismicity with 2 percent probability of exceedance in 50 years, is 9 feet per second squared, as obtained by modeling results. The estimated peak ground acceleration with 2 percent probability of exceedance in 50 years, due to deep seismicity is 7 feet per second squared. In Ponce, the probability of exceedance per year is higher than 0.1 for the peak ground acceleration values less than 1 that result from shallow depth seismicity sources such as the Mona Passage extension zone.

The potential for liquefaction due to seismic activity may exist in areas near the coastline that have loosely to poorly consolidated sedimentary deposits and a water table close to or at the land surface. Slope failure susceptibility within the study area, due to rainfall and seismic activity, may be limited to the area that extends westward from Laguna de las Salinas to Peñuelas. In this area, foothills with slopes exceeding 10 degrees are close to the coastline and are underlain by clayey limestone and marls. In the remaining part of the study area, eastward from Laguna de las Salinas to Salinas, the land is either nearly flat or has a slope of less than 10 degrees; consequently, the susceptibility to landsliding (slope failure) caused by seismic activity and rainfall is considered to be minimal or nonexistent.

Based on modeling results from a previous study, the estimated maximum inland extent of tsunami-induced flooding is 2,600 feet in the Laguna de las Salinas and Boca Chica, located in Ponce and Juana Díaz, respectively. Flooding about 3,000 and 2,800 feet from the coastline are estimated for areas near Punta Cabullón and Jobos areas, respectively. According to the modeling results, the estimated maximum runup of the tsunami-induced flooding ranges from 9 to 14 feet for the Boca Chica and Punta Cabullón areas, respectively.



Purpose and Scope

Geomorphology of the Study Area



Early Tertiary Age and Older Rocks

Middle Tertiary Age Rocks

Juana Díaz Formation

Unnamed Pelagic Rocks or Deposits

Ponce Limestone

Quaternary Age Fan-Delta and Alluvial Deposits


Great Southern Puerto Rico Fault Zone

Late Quaternary Faulting

Geologic Risks

Spatial and Temporal Distribution of Seismic Activity

Potential for Liquefaction, Landslides and Tsunamis


References Cited



The citation for this report, in USGS format, is as follows:


Rodríguez-Martínez, Jesús, 2007, Stratigraphy, structure, and geologic and coastal hazards in the Peñuelas to Salinas area, southern Puerto Rico: A compendium of published literature: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1259, 27 p.

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