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Crustal seismic attenuation of the central United States and Intermountain West

November 23, 2021

Seismic attenuation is generally greater in the western United States (WUS) than the central and eastern United States (CEUS), but the nature of this transition or location of this boundary is poorly constrained. We conduct crustal seismic (Lg) attenuation tomography across a region that stretches from the CEUS across the Rocky Mountains to the Basin and Range using a total of 115,870 amplitude measurements from 106 earthquakes recorded on 544 stations across five frequency bands spanning 0.5–16 Hz. Similar to previous studies, we find higher attenuation in the WUS (Q0 ∼ 190) than the nominally CEUS (Q0 ∼ 250) and comparatively high attenuation on the Gulf Coast (Q0 ∼ 175). Our models defy simple east versus west regionalization, however. Heterogeneity within the Rocky Mountain region—low attenuation in the Colorado Plateau interior and Wyoming Craton (Q0 ∼ 230) compared to high attenuation in the southern Rockies (Q0 ∼ 110)—exceeds the gross differences between the CEUS and western United States. These province-scale patterns are readily interpreted in terms of intrinsic attenuation. The boundary between the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range hosts the highest attenuation imaged in the study area (Q0 ∼ 90), consistent with localized scattering across contrasting crustal structure. Focused high attenuation in the southern Rockies may represent the effects of represent in situ partial crustal melt. Within the CEUS, second-order bands of comparatively high attenuation align with the Proterozoic Yavapai-Mazatzal suture zone and Midcontinent Rift. This complex attenuation structure defies broad regionalization and suggests a need for path-specific models near these boundaries and for critical infrastructure.

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