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A seismic refraction study of the beach and tundra gold placer areas near Nome, Alaska, was made using a small, light-weight, portable seismograph during the summer of 1967. Geophone configuration and type of energy source were determined during a preliminary experimental survey.
Because the beach study was successful, a short experimental seismic line was completed inland to determine the usefulness of a portable refraction seismograph in permafrost areas near Nome. Basic problems in permafrost areas are the high seismic velocities in the overburden, caused by increase in elastic modules in frozen ground, and the acoustical absorption and variable thickness of the overlying tundra. The increase in sediment velocity reduces the possibility that there is a marked velocity contrast at the bedrock-overburden interface, and the organic material of the tundra absorbs returning seismic energy. These problems were reduced by detonating the explosive energy source on the permafrost surface and by placing the geophones in the thaw zone of silt beneath the spongelike ma ter of the tundra.
The beach survey results indicated that internal stratigraphy of the overburden could be interpreted and seismic velocities assigned to the different units. A very low-velocity, dry to damp layer of Holocene sands covering most of the beach has seismic velocity values of 0.15-0.73 km/sec. In other low-velocity layers included in the overburden, and especially conspicuous near river mouths, velocity values range from 0.62 to 1.00 km/sec. A poorly consolidated nearshore or estuarine silt, clay, and sand layer of Sangamon age (late Pleistocene) with velocity values of 1.20-1.80 km/sec is below the very low-velocity layer. Beneath the estuarine material is a till of Illinoisan age (middle Pleistocene) that has a velocity of 2.80-4.00 km/sec. Bedrock was well defined in all seismograms and exhibited velocity values from 4.20 to 5.60 km/sec.
A basement contour map of the beach was constructed from depth data obtained along the beach with the refraction seismograph, from offshore seismic-reflection data, and from onshore drillhole information. Several buried channels were identified which may be sites of possible gold placer deposits. Beneath the tundra a bedrock surface dips under Dry Creek from both sides, and a bedrock contour map was drawn from refraction-seismograph data and drillhole information. Results of the Nome tundra survey illustrate the feasibility of the portable seismograph as a placer prospecting tool for use in tundra-permafrost areas.
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