, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 75-90

Why the Sacramento Delta area differs from other parts of the great valley: Numerical modeling of thermal structure and thermal subsidence of forearc basins

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Data on present-day heat flow, subsidence history, and paleotemperature for the Sacramento Delta region, California, have been employed to constrain a numerical model of tectonic subsidence and thermal evolution of forearc basins. The model assumes an oceanic basement with an initial thermal profile dependent on its age subjected to refrigeration caused by a subducting slab. Subsidence in the Sacramento Delta region appears to be close to that expected for a forearc basin underlain by normal oceanic lithosphere of age 150 Ma, demonstrating that effects from both the initial thermal profile and the subduction process are necessary and sufficient. Subsidence at the eastern and northern borders of the Sacramento Valley is considerably less, approximating subsidence expected from the dynamics of the subduction zone alone. These results, together with other geophysical data, show that Sacramento Delta lithosphere, being thinner and having undergone deeper subsidence, must differ from lithosphere of the transitional type under other parts of the Sacramento Valley. Thermal modeling allows evaluation of the rheological properties of the lithosphere. Strength diagrams based on our thermal model show that, even under relatively slow deformation (10−17 s−1), the upper part of the delta crystalline crust (down to 20–22 km) can fail in brittle fashion, which is in agreement with deeper earthquake occurrence. Hypocentral depths of earthquakes under the Sacramento Delta region extend to nearly 20 km, whereas, in the Coast Ranges to the west, depths are typically less than 12–15 km. The greater width of the seismogenic zone in this area raises the possibility that, for fault segments of comparable length, earthquakes of somewhat greater magnitude might occur than in the Coast Ranges to the west.