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Northwestern Nevada is characterized by some of the lowest mean elevations,
highest heat flow (>100 mW/m2 with a geothermal gradient exceeding 60ºC/km, e.g.
Blackwell, 2004), and thinnest crust (28-30 km, e.g. Catchings et al., 1991) in the
northern Basin and Range Province. Recent geologic and geo/thermochronologic studies
have demonstrated that extensional faulting in this area is both more recent and of
considerably lower magnitude than faulting in adjacent parts of the Basin and Range to
the south and east (beginning ca. 11-12 Ma and not exceeding 15% in northwestern
Nevada, compared to 50-100% or greater extension since Eocene time in central
Nevada). Major volcanism across much of Nevada peaked with the great “ignimbrite
flareup” in late Oligocene/early Miocene time, but northwestern Nevada was the locus of
intense 17-15 Ma bimodal volcanism commonly thought to represent breakout of the
Yellowstone hotspot.
If northwestern Nevada is relatively little and recently extended, why is it one of
the thinnest parts of the northern Basin and Range? The area was part of the Cretaceous
northern Sierra Nevada and probably characterized by 40-45 km thick crust that was only
mildly disrupted by late Miocene extensional faulting. How was the crust thinned and
when did this occur? We suggest that ductile flow of the lower crust during rapid
Miocene extension in nearby regions may play a significant role, and the goal of this
experiment was to collect information on the thickness, velocity structure, reflectivity,
and anisotropy of the crust in northwestern Nevada that will enable us to address this

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • simon klemperer (2011), "NW Nevada Seismic Experiment,"

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