Thin crust and active upper mantle beneath the Southern Sierra Nevada in the western United States

Stanley Ruppert, Moritz M. Fliedner, George Zandt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Analysis of seismic-refraction/wide-angle reflection travel-time and seismic amplitude data collected during the 1993 Southern Sierra Nevada Continental Dynamics (SSCD) protect resolves a small crustal root (40-42 km thick) centered 80 km west of the Sierran topographic crest. The SSCD experiment consisted of a west-east profile across the Sierra Nevada at approximately 36.5°N and a north-south profile extending the length of Owens Valley, located eastward of the Sierran topographic crest. Two-dimensional finite-difference travel-time inversion of Pg, and Pn arrivals resolves upper-crustal velocities of 6.0 to 6.4 km s-1 within the Sierran Batholith and Basin and Range, an upper-crustal west-dipping wedge of higher velocities (6.8-7.2 km s-1) consistent with ophiolitic material underlying the Great Valley sedimentary sequence, and higher velocities in the lower crust beneath the Basin and Range (6.8-7.0 km s-1) than those beneath the Sierran Batholith (6.6 km s-1). Low average Pn velocities (7.6-7.9 km s-1) and a laminated transitional Moho imaged beneath the Sierran Batholith also differ from the higher Pn, velocities (7.9-8.0 km s-1) and sharp first-order Moho observed beneath the Basin and Range. The crust decreases in thickness both westward of the root to 28-34 km beneath the Great Valley and eastward to 35 km beneath the highest Sierran topography and decreases further to 27-30 km beneath the Basin and Range. Crustal thickness also appears to increase southeast to northwest from 29-30 km beneath the Garlock Fault in the south to 38-40 km beneath the north end of Chalfant Valley. Juxtaposition of the crustal model with previous P-wave tomography models of the southernmost Sierra Nevada upper-mantle reveal that the thickest Sierran crust on the west-east profile overlies a pronounced upper-mantle high-velocity anomaly (+5%), whereas the region of laminated Moho overlies a flanking upper-mantle low-velocity region (-3%). The upper-mantle velocity anomalies, relatively low Pn, and relatively flat Moho, observed beneath the Sierran crest suggest that the recent uplift of the Sierra Nevada is due to asthenospheric flow and/or lithospheric thinning beneath the southeastern Sierra Nevada and Basin and Range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-252
Number of pages16
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Mar 10 1998


  • Crustal root
  • SSCD
  • Seismic refraction
  • Sierra nevada
  • Tomography
  • Upper mantle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Thin crust and active upper mantle beneath the Southern Sierra Nevada in the western United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this