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Published September 10, 2000 | Published
Journal Article Open

Deformation and seismicity in the Coso geothermal area, Inyo County, California: Observations and modeling using satellite radar interferometry


Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data collected in the Coso geothermal area, eastern California, during 1993–1999 indicate ground subsidence over a ∼50 km^2 region that approximately coincides with the production area of the Coso geothermal plant. The maximum subsidence rate in the peak of the anomaly is ∼3.5 cm yr^(−1), and the average volumetric rate of subsidence is of the order of 10^6 m^3 yr^(−1). The radar interferograms reveal a complex deformation pattern, with at least two irregular subsidence peaks in the northern part of the anomaly and a region of relative uplift on the south. We invert the InSAR displacement data for the positions, geometry, and relative strengths of the deformation sources at depth using a nonlinear least squares minimization algorithm. We use elastic solutions for a prolate uniformly pressurized spheroidal cavity in a semi-infinite body as basis functions for our inversions. Source depths inferred from our simulations range from 1 to 3 km, which corresponds to the production depths of the Coso geothermal plant. Underpressures in the geothermal reservoir inferred from the inversion are of the order of 0.1–1 MPa (except a few abnormally high underpressures that are apparently biased toward the small source dimensions). Analysis of the InSAR data covering consecutive time intervals indicates that the depths and/or horizontal extent of the deformation sources may increase with time. This increase presumably reflects increasing volumes of the subsurface reservoir affected by the geothermal exploitation. We show that clusters of microearthquakes associated with the geothermal power operation may result from perturbations in the pore fluid pressure, as well as normal and shear stresses caused by the deflation of the geothermal reservoir.

Additional Information

© 2000 by the American Geophysical Union. Received Nov. 17, 1999; revised Apr. 5, 2000; accepted May 5, 2000. The authors thank Alan Linde, Jonahtan Lees, and Paul Lundgren for thoughtful reviews that improved the quality of this manuscript and Egill Hauksson for providing the earthquake data and fault maps for the Coso area. Paul Davis and Paul Lundgren kindly shared their computer codes for the inversion of geodetic. data. The ERS SAR imagery has been acquired under research user category from Eurimage, Italy. Digital elevation maps, InSAR measurements of the line of sight displacements, and modeling data used in this study are available from the authors. Contribution number 8690 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

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