Salton Sea Geothermal Features

August 18, 2010


Photographer: David M. Tratt; David K. Lynch 
Summary Author: David M. Tratt; David K. Lynch

There are many geothermal features near the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California. These include mud volcanoes, mud pots, and fumarolic vents that release carbon dioxide and in some places ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The elevated temperatures that give rise to these features are due to a shallow magma body that underlies the Salton Buttes, five rhyolitic volcanic necks dating to around 16,000 years ago.

The largely forgotten field of steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pots shown here was photographed during an airborne, thermal-infrared hyperspectral survey conducted on April 6, 2010. This visible image covers an area approximately 820 feet (250 m) across, with north being to the left. Dark subsurface mud is conveyed to the surface by rising carbon dioxide and flows out onto the bright white ground, composed primarily of salt, sand and calcareous silt. Several of the fumaroles continue to erupt boiling mud and clouds of steam.

The field of bubbling gas vents was a tourist attraction until it was submerged by the rising Salton Sea waters in about 1939. In recent years, the Salton Sea water level has dropped so that these geothermal features are now re-exposed though they remain largely inaccessible due to surrounding water-saturated mud.