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December 8, 2022

The interactive, data-rich USGS geonarrative "A Desert on the Move" looks at earthquake and volcanic hazards around the Salton Sea. Understanding these hazards is an important part of successfully planning and restoring the Salton Sea for the future.

California’s Salton Sea is shrinking. As drought worsens with climate change and water supplies dwindle, this area will change and the people, wildlife, and industry of this area will be significantly impacted. Changes to the water supply have direct impacts on the Sea and its wetland ecosystems, which support tens of thousands of migratory birds and rare pupfish. The valleys around it support small cities, extensive agriculture, and renewable energy infrastructure.

In November 2022, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation announced an historic agreement funded by the Inflation Reduction Act that will mitigate impacts from the worsening drought crisis impacting the Salton Sea in Southern California. This agreement empowers organizations at the local, state, and federal levels to collaboratively develop plans that will reverse the Salton Sea’s decline, while ensuring it is resilient to future changes.

USGS science contributes combined expertise to inform the planning and designs of this restoration approach and management plan. From understanding geohazards and monitoring water resources to understanding climate change impacts on ecosystem health, USGS supports partners in creating sustainable infrastructure that is resilient to climate change and natural hazards.

The geonarrative, “A Desert on the Move”, addresses the geohazards present in the area. Beneath the Salton Sea is a network of active tectonic faults some of which have produced some of the largest earthquakes in California’s history. Restoration plans often involve massive engineering projects, including the construction of water-conveyance infrastructure—dams, levees, canals, and the like—which are susceptible to earthquake damage.  Any efforts to restore the Sea’s ecological health and manage its water resources must account for the geohazards posed by these active faults and consider the long-term sustainability of management plans.

The interactive, data-rich USGS geonarrative looks at earthquake and volcanic hazards around the Salton Sea and how these hazards could affect the potential pipeline locations and other designs. Understanding these hazards is an important part of successfully planning and restoring the Salton Sea for the future.

faults in Southern California
Southern California consists of two of Earth’s plates (the Pacific and North American plates) moving past each other. The boundary between the two plates is quite crooked. Heavy red lines indicate the San Andreas and related faults. As the two plates move past each other along these faults (in the directions of the small white arrows), earthquakes occur. The purple lines indicate locations between these faults where the Earth is being pulled apart, creating a deep valley or even new ocean. Volcanoes and underground magma in these areas create geothermal energy and hot springs (CPG is Cerro Prieto Geothermal area; BSZ is Brawley Seismic Zone and geothermal area). In the Transverse Ranges, where the San Andreas Fault undergoes a “Big Bend,” the plates are pushing against each other (heavy white arrows), building mountains, which are uplifted along thrust faults (the thin red lines with teeth). Thus, mountain building and valley subsidence are occurring very close to each other in this part of southern California.