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Open-File Report 2013–1172

Borehole-Explosion and Air-Gun Data Acquired in the 2011 Salton Seismic Imaging Project (SSIP), Southern California: Description of the Survey

By Elizabeth J. Rose, Gary S. Fuis, Joann M. Stock, John A. Hole, Annie M. Kell, Graham Kent, Neal W. Driscoll, Sam Crum, Mark Goldman, Angela M. Reusch, Liang Han, Robert R. Sickler, Rufus D. Catchings, Michael J. Rymer, Coyn J. Criley, Daniel S. Scheirer, Steven M. Skinner, Coye J. Slayday-Criley, Janice M. Murphy, Edward G. Jensen, Robert McClearn, Alex J. Ferguson, Lesley A. Butcher, Max A. Gardner, Iain Emmons, Caleb L. Loughran, Joseph R. Svitek, Patrick C. Bastien, Joseph A. Cotton, David S. Croker, Alistair J. Harding, Jeffrey M. Babcock, Steven H. Harder, and Carla M. Rosa

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (7.9 MB) Introduction

The Imperial and Coachella Valleys are being formed by active plate-tectonic processes. From the Imperial Valley southward into the Gulf of California, plate motions are rifting the continent apart. In the Coachella Valley, the plates are sliding past one another along the San Andreas and related faults (fig. 1). These processes build the stunning landscapes of the region, but also produce damaging earthquakes.

Rupture of the southern section of the San Andreas Fault (SAF), from the Coachella Valley to the Mojave Desert, is believed to be the greatest natural hazard that California will face in the near future. With an estimated magnitude between 7.2 and 8.1, such an event would result in violent shaking, loss of life, and disruption of infrastructure (freeways, aqueducts, power, petroleum, and communication lines) that might bring much of southern California to a standstill. As part of the nation’s efforts to avert a catastrophe of this magnitude, a number of projects have been undertaken to more fully understand and mitigate the effects of such an event. The Salton Seismic Imaging Project (SSIP), funded jointly by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), seeks to understand, through seismic imaging, the structure of the Earth surrounding the SAF, including the sedimentary basins on which cities are built.

The principal investigators (PIs) of this collaborative project represent the USGS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Scripps), University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), and Stanford University.

SSIP will create images of underground structure and sediments in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys and adjacent mountain ranges to investigate the earthquake hazards posed to cities in this area. Importantly, the images will help determine the underground geometry of the SAF, how deep the sediments are, and how fast earthquake energy can travel through the sediments. All of these factors determine how hard the earth will shake during a major earthquake. If we can improve on our understanding of how and where earthquakes will occur, and how strong their resultant shaking will be, then buildings can be designed or retrofitted accordingly in order to resist damage and collapse, and emergency plans can be adequately prepared. In addition, SSIP will investigate the processes of rifting and magmatism in the Salton Trough in order to better understand this important plate-boundary region. The Salton Trough is a unique rift in that subsidence is accompanied by huge influxes of infilling sediment from the Colorado River. Volcanism that accompanies the subsidence here is muted by these influxes of sediment. The Salton Trough, in the central part of the Imperial Valley, is apparently made up of entirely new crust: young sediment in the upper crust and basaltic intrusive rocks in the mid-to-lower crust (Fuis and others, 1984).

Similar to the ultrasound and computed tomography (CT) scans performed by the medical industry, seismic imaging is a collection of techniques that enable scientists to obtain a picture of what is underground. The petroleum industry routinely uses these techniques to search for oil and gas at relatively shallow depths; however, the scope of this project demanded that we image as much as 30 km into the Earth’s crust. This project generated and recorded seismic waves, similar to sound waves, which move downward into the Earth and are bent (refracted) or echoed (reflected) back to the surface.

SSIP acquired data in a series of intersecting lines that cover key areas of the Salton Trough. The sources of sound waves were detonations (shots) in deep boreholes, designed to create energy equivalent to magnitude 1–2 earthquakes. The study region routinely experiences earthquakes of these magnitudes, but earthquakes are not located in such a way as to permit us to create the detailed images we need for earthquake hazard assessment. Air gun bursts, generated in the Salton Sea along extensions of our onshore seismic lines, also were utilized as sound-wave sources. Temporary deployments of portable land seismometers, as well as ocean-bottom seismometers (OBSs) on the floor of the Salton Sea, recorded the energy from the land shots and air gun bursts.

SSIP is similar to the Los Angeles Regional Seismic Experiments of 1994 and 1999 (LARSE I and II, respectively; Murphy and others, 1996; Fuis and others, 2001). The LARSE surveys demonstrated that the USGS and collaborators can safely and effectively conduct seismic imaging surveys in urban and nonurban areas, on lands owned and/or managed by many different types of agencies and entities. Information was produced that could not have been obtained any other way, and this information was key to changing the leading ideas about earthquake hazards at that time in the Los Angeles region. These surveys produced no significant environmental impact or damage to structures, and they did not trigger earthquakes.

First posted November 19, 2013

For additional information:
Contact Information, Menlo Park, Calif.
Office—Earthquake Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 977
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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Suggested citation:

Rose, E.J., Fuis, G.S., Stock, J.M., Hole, J.A., Kell, A.M., Kent, G., Driscoll, N.W., Crum, S., Goldman, M., Reusch, A.M., Han, L., Sickler, R.R., Catchings, R.D., Rymer, M.J., Criley, C.J., Scheirer, D.S., Skinner, S.M., Slayday-Criley, C.J., Murphy, J.M., Jensen, E.G., McClearn, R., Ferguson, A.J., Butcher, L.A., Gardner, M.A., Emmons, I., Loughran, C.L., Svitek, J.R., Bastien, P.C., Cotton, J.A., Croker, D.S., Harding, A.J., Babcock, J.M., Harder, S.H., and C.M. Rosa, 2013, Borehole-explosion and air-gun data acquired in the 2011 Salton Seismic Imaging Project (SSIP), southern California—Description of the survey: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1172, 84 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258



Geological and Geophysical Setting

Questions to be Addressed by the Salton Seismic Imaging Project

Prior Crustal-Structure Work

Experiment Design

Division of Labor

Experiment Schedule


Land Shot Size Determination

Land Shot Drilling, Loading, and Shooting

Land Seismometer Deployment

Salton Sea Ocean-Bottom Seismometer Deployment and Air-Gun Operations

Seismic Acquisition Systems

Data Processing

Shot Site Remediation

KMZ Summary Files


References Cited

Appendixes I–VIII

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