Panamint and Eureka playas, both located within Death Valley National Park, exhibit a host of surficial features including fissures, pits, mounds, and plant-covered ridges, representing topographic highs and lows that vary up to 2 m of relief from the playa surface. Aerial photographs reveal that these linear strands often converge to form polygons, ranging in length from several meters to nearly a kilometer. These features stand out in generally dark contrast to the brighter intervening expanse of flat, plant-free, desiccated mud of the typical playa surface. Ground-truth mapping of playa features with differential GPS (Global Positioning System) was conducted in 1999 (North Panamint Valley) and 2002 (Eureka Valley). High-resolution digital maps reveal that both playas possess macropolygons of similar scale and geometry, and that fissures may be categorized into one of two genetic groups: (1) shore-parallel or playa-interior desiccation and shrinkage; and (2) tectonic-induced cracks. Early investigations of these features in Eureka Valley concluded that their origin may have been related to agricultural activity by paleo-Indian communities. Although human artifacts are abundant at each locale, there is no evidence to support the inference that surface features reported on Eureka Playa are anthropogenic in origin. Our assumptions into the genesis of polygons on playas is based on our fortuitous experience of witnessing a fissure in the process of formation on Panamint Playa after a flash flood (May 1999); our observations revealed a paradox that saturation of the upper playa crusts contributes to the establishment of some desiccation features. Follow-up visits to the same feature over 2 yrs' time are a foundation for insight into the evolution and possible longevity of these features. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Macropolygon morphology, development, and classification on North Panamint and Eureka playas, Death Valley National Park CA