This paper provides a geologic and hydrologic framework of the Yucca Mountain region for the geochemical papers in this volume. The regional geologic units, which range in age from late Precambrian through Holocene, are briefly described. Yucca Mountain is composed of dominantly pyroclastic units that range in age from 11.4 to 15.2 Ma. The principal focus of study has been on the Paintbrush Group, which includes two major zoned and welded ash-flow tuffs separated by an important hydrogeologic unit referred to as the Paintbrush non-welded (PTn). The regional structural setting is currently one of extension, and the major local tectonic domains are presented together with a tectonic model that is consistent with the known structures at Yucca Mountain. Streamflow in this arid to semi-arid region occurs principally in intermittent or ephemeral channels. Near Yucca Mountain, the channels of Fortymile Wash and Amargosa River collect infrequent runoff from tributary basins, ultimately draining to Death Valley. Beneath the surface, large-scale interbasin flow of groundwater from one valley to another occurs commonly in the region. Regional groundwater flow beneath Yucca Mountain originates in the high mesas to the north and returns to the surface either in southern Amargosa Desert or in Death Valley, where it is consumed by evapotranspiration. The water table is very deep beneath the upland areas such as Yucca Mountain, where it is 500-750 m below the land surface, providing a large thickness of unsaturated rocks that are potentially suitable to host a nuclear-waste repository. The nature of unsaturated flow processes, which are important for assessing radionuclide migration, are inferred mainly from hydrochemical or isotopic evidence, from pneumatic tests of the fracture systems, and from the results of in situ experiments. Water seeping down through the unsaturated zone flows rapidly through fractures and more slowly through the pores of the rock matrix. Although capillary forces are expected to divert much of the flow around repository openings, some may drip onto waste packages, ultimately causing release of radionuclides, followed by transport down to the water table. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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The geohydrologic setting of Yucca Mountain, Nevada