Thickness of the Saudi Arabian Crust

Professional Paper 1862-M
Jointly published with the Saudi Geological Survey [as Saudi Geological Survey Special Report SGS–SP–2021–1]
By: , and 



As part of a joint Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) project, we analyzed P-wave receiver functions from seismic stations covering most of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to map the thickness of the crust across the Arabia Plate. We present an update of crustal-thickness estimates and fill in gaps for the western Arabian Shield and the rifted margin at the Red Sea (the coastal plain), as well as the eastern Arabian Platform. We applied a conventional H-k stacking algorithm and included careful attention to stacking weights, two forms of sedimentary corrections for stations located on the Arabian Platform, and additional processing for noisy stations. We obtained useful results at 154 stations from 898 teleseismic events over a 2-year period from 1995–1997 (for non-SGS stations) and a 6-year period from 2008–2014 (for SGS stations). Average crustal thickness (that is, depth to the Mohorovičić discontinuity [Moho] below the surface) beneath the Red Sea coastal plain (the rift margin) is 29 kilometers (km), beneath the volcanic fields (known in Arabic as harra [plural] or harrat [singular]) is 35 km, beneath the Arabian Shield (excluding harrats) is 37 km, and beneath the Arabian Platform is 38 km. Crustal thinning appears not to extend east of the rift escarpment, suggesting uniform extension that is no broader at depth than at the surface. In contrast to some previous claims that the Arabian Platform crust is thicker than that of the Arabian Shield, we find no statistically significant difference between their whole crustal thicknesses. However, the average subsedimentary crustal thickness (that is, the crystalline crust) for stations on the Arabian Platform is 34 km, 3 km thinner than the crust of the Arabian Shield. Individual station P-wave (pressure) velocity and S-wave (shear) velocity ratios (VP/VS) are highly variable for the Arabia Plate, ranging from 1.60 to 1.97 and averaging 1.75, with a standard deviation of 0.07. There are no statistically significant differences between VP/VS ratios of the different geologic regions of Saudi Arabia. Similar VP/VS ratios, coupled with similar crustal thicknesses for harrats and the Arabian Shield, indicate that Cenozoic magmatism has contributed negligibly to crustal growth.

Suggested Citation

Blanchette, A.R., Klemperer, S.L., Mooney, W.D., and Zahran, H.M., 2023, Thickness of the Saudi Arabian crust, chap. M of Sisson, T.W., Calvert, A.T., and Mooney, W.D., eds., Active volcanism on the Arabian Shield—Geology, volcanology, and geophysics of northern Harrat Rahat and vicinity, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1862 [also released as Saudi Geological Survey Special Report SGS–SP–2021–1], 49 p.,

ISSN: 2330-7102 (online)

ISSN: 1044-9612 (print)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Data and Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Thickness of the Saudi Arabian crust
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1862
Chapter M
DOI 10.3133/pp1862M
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description viii, 49 p.
Country Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details