The S reflector west of Galicia: The seismic signature of a detachment fault

Timothy Reston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


The so-called S reflector is a group of bright, continuous reflections underlying the landward-tilted fault blocks of the west Galicia rifted margin. S has been interpreted as the brittle-ductile transition, the top of an intrusion, a detachment fault, and the crust-mantle boundary. To constrain the internal structure of the reflector, we have carried out detailed analyses of these reflections. We compare the waveforms of the seafloor reflection and its first multiple, both to determine the amplitude of the seafloor reflection and to show that the seafloor is in effect a spike in the reflectivity series so that the seafloor reflection can be used as the far-field wavelet, including both source and receiver ghosts. We compare the waveform of the seafloor and S and show that, within the resolution of our data, S is a reflection from a step increase in acoustic impedance. This result is confirmed through complex trace analysis, and in particular the determination of the apparent polarity of S, and the examination of the instantaneous frequency function: S is consistently positive polarity, and shows no significant frequency anomaly. Simple modelling shows that S is very unlikely to be a reflection from a thin layer. We thus conclude that S is probably a single steplike interface. From the varying frequency content of the data, we determine a value for the effective Q between S and the seafloor, and use this to assess the amplitude loss due to attenuation and scattering. We use a comparison between the seafloor and the S reflection to constrain the amplitude of S, and estimate a reflection coefficient for S of at least 0.2 in places, decreasing landwards. By analogy with structures developed in the highly extended regions of the western United States, we consider that the most likely interpretation of S is as a sharp west-dipping detachment fault separating a 'granitic' upper plate from a higher-velocity lower plate, locally probably serpentinized mantle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-244
Number of pages15
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 1996


  • Acoustic impedance
  • Continental margin
  • Fault tectonics
  • Galicia bank
  • Rifts
  • Seismic reflection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics


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