Contemporary strain rates in the northern Basin and Range province from GPS data

R. A. Bennett, B. P. Wernicke, N. A. Niemi, A. M. Friedrich, J. L. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

287 Scopus citations


We investigate the distribution of active deformation in the northern Basin and Range province using data from continuous GPS (CGPS) networks, supplemented by additional campaign data from the Death Valley, northern Basin and Range, and Sierra Nevada-Great Valley regions. To understand the contemporary strain rate field in the context of the greater Pacific (P)-North America (NA) plate boundary zone, we use GPS velocities to estimate the average relative motions of the Colorado Plateau (CP), the Sierra Nevada-Great Valley (SNGV) microplate, and a narrow north-south elongate region in the central Great Basin (CGB) occupying the longitude band 114-117°W. We find that the SNGV microplate translates with respect to the CP at a rate of 11.4 ± 0.3 mm yr-1 oriented N47 ± 1°W and with respect to NA at a rate of ∼ 12.4 mm yr-1 also oriented N47°W, slower than most previous geodetic estimates of SNGV-NA relative motion, and nearly 7° counterclockwise from the direction of P-NA relative plate motion. We estimate CGB-CP relative motion of 2.8 ± 0.2 mm yr-1 oriented N84 ± 5°W, consistent with roughly east-west extension within the eastern Great Basin (EGB). Velocity estimates from the EGB reveal diffuse extension across this region, with more rapid extension of 20 ± 1 nstr yr-1 concentrated in the eastern half of the region, which includes the Wasatch fault zone. We estimate SNGV-CGB relative motion of 9.3 ± 0.2 mm yr-1 oriented N37 ± 2°W, essentially parallel to PNA relative plate motion. This rate is significantly slower than most previous geodetic estimates of deformation across the western Great Basin (WGB) but is generally consistent with paleoseismological inferences. The WGB region accommodates N37°W directed right lateral shear at rates of (1) 57 ± 9 nstr yr-1 across a zone of width ∼ 125 km in the south (latitude ∼ 36°N), (2) 25 ± 5 nstr yr-1 in the central region (latitude ∼ 38°N), and (3) 36 ± 1 nstr yr-1 across a zone of width ∼300 km in the north (latitude ∼40°N). By construction there is no net extension or shortening perpendicular to SNGV-CGB relative motion. However, we observe about 8.6 ± 0.5 nstr yr-1 extension on average in the direction of shear from southeast to northwest within the Walker Lane belt, comparable to the average east-west extension rate of 10 ± 1 nstr yr-1 across the northern Basin and Range but implying a distinctly different mechanism of deformation from extension on north trending, range-bounding normal faults. An alternative model for this shear parallel deformation, in which extension is accommodated across a narrow, more rapidly extending zone that coincides with the central Nevada seismic belt, fits that WGB data slightly better. Local anomalies with respect to this simple kinematic model may reveal second-order deformation signals related to more local crustal dynamic phenomena, but significant improvements in velocity field resolution will be necessary to reveal this second-order pattern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-1 - 3-31
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003


  • Basin and Range
  • Crustal deformation
  • GPS
  • Strain rates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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