In 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a seismic-refraction experiment in northeastern California designed to study the Klamath Mountains, Cascade Range, Modoc Plateau, and Basin and Range provinces. Key profiles include 135-km-long, north-south lines in the Klamath Mountains and Modoc Plateau provinces and a 260-km-long, east-west line crossing all of the provinces.
The seismic-velocity models for the Klamath and Modoc lines are comparatively homogeneous laterally but are quite different from each other. The Klamath model is finely layered from the surface to at least 14-km depth, consisting of a series of high-velocity layers (6.1–6.7 km/s), ranging in thickness from 1 to 4 km, with alternating positive and negative velocity gradients. A layer with an unreversed velocity of 7.0 km/s extends from 14 km to an unknown depth. The Modoc model, in contrast, is relatively thickly layered and has lower velocities than does the Klamath model at all depths down to 25 km. An upper layer, 4.5 km thick, of low-velocity material (2.1–4.4 km/s) overlies a basement with a considerably higher velocity (6.2 km/s). Velocity increases slowly with depth, with a small velocity step (to 6.4 km/s) at 11 km and a 7.0-km/s layer beginning at 25-km depth. Moho is probably 38–45 km deep under the Modoc Plateau, but its depth is unknown under the Klamath Mountains. A combined velocity-density model for the east-west line consists of a western part similar in configuration to the Klamath velocity model, an eastern part similar to the Modoc velocity model, and laterally changing velocity-density structure in between, in the Cascade Range.
Beneath its upper layer, the velocity model for the Modoc Plateau is similar to that determined by other researchers for the adjacent Sierra Nevada. The velocity model is unlike those for rift areas, to which the Modoc Plateau has been compared by some authors. We theorize that beneath a veneer of volcanic and sedimentary rocks (the upper layer), the Modoc Plateau is underlain by a basement of granitic and metamorphic rocks that, like rocks in the Sierra Nevada, are the roots of one or more magmatic arcs.
The fine layering in the Klamath seismic-velocity model is consistent with the geologic structure of the Klamath Mountains, characterized by imbricate thrusting of oceanic rock layers of various compositions and ages. Independent modeling of aeromagnetic data indicates that the base of the Trinity ultramafic sheet, the second major rock layer down in the structural sequence, corresponds to a velocity step to 6.7 km/s at 7-km depth in our model. The 6.7-km/s layer beneath the Trinity ultramafic sheet apparently corresponds to rocks of the central metamorphic belt, which are mafic schists. Rock units structurally deeper than rocks of the central metamorphic belt can be correlated with velocity layers below the 6.7-km/s layer, but with less certainty.
In the model for the east-west line, the region of laterally changing velocity structure beneath the Cascade Range includes a 10-km step down to the east in the top of the 7.0-km/s layer. This region of lateral velocity change we interpret to be a fault, fold, or intrusive contact (or some combination of the three) between the stack of oceanic rock layers that underlie the Klamath Mountains and the buried roots of magmatic arcs inferred to underlie the Modoc Plateau. Magmas forming the modern Cascade Range arc apparently rise through this region.