The southern San Andreas fault (SSAF) accommodates a significant amount of strain between the Pacific and North American plates; thus, the fault represents a major geohazard to the populated areas of southern California, in particular the larger Los Angeles metropolitan area. Paleoseismic chronology of ruptures along the SSAF segment suggests this fault is near the end of its interseismic period (∼180 years), because it has not ruptured in historic times (∼320 years). A recent active‐source seismic experiment performed in the Salton Sea west of the SSAF provides evidence for extensional deformation along the northeastern shore of the Salton Sea. This study posits that the extensional deformation is due to a previously unmapped fault, here named the Salton trough fault (STF). The seismic reflection data image a divergent sediment package that dips toward the northeast with thicknesses up to at least 2 km. Refraction inversion produces a southwestward‐dipping velocity discontinuity that crops out east of the SSAF surface trace, consistent with the existence of a southwest to northeast gradient in lithology. If present, the existence of the STF has scientific and societal relevance. First, the STF appears to control the recent Salton trough architecture north of Bombay Beach. Second, from a seismological hazards perspective, the presence of this structure could alter the current understanding of stress transfer and rupture dynamics in the region, as well as community fault models and ground‐motion simulations on the SSAF.
Online Material: Uninterpreted seismic‐reflection profiles.