Clay mineralogy of Pleistocene Lake Tecopa, Inyo County, California

Professional Paper 1061




Pleistocene Lake Tecopa in southeastern Inyo County, Calif., was formed when the Amargosa River was blocked at the southern end of its valley. The lake acted as a settling basin for detrital material being transported by the river. This detritus consisted of clays, quartz, feldspars, and micas which became mudstones and siltstones. These mudstones and siltstones, much eroded and dissected after the draining of the lake, extend over the entire basin and are interbedded with tuffs formed by the intermittent deposition of volcanic ashfalls in the former lake waters. These lightcolored mudstones and siltstones are tough and well indurated and break with a conchoidal fracture. The predominant clay mineral in these detrital beds is a lithiumbearing saponite, which is found not only in the lake beds but also in the area beyond the boundaries of the lake, especially in fluvial deposits in the drainage basin of the Amargosa River to the north. This saponite does not contain enough lithium to be classified as a hectorite, and we have observed no indications that this clay consists of a mixture of two phases, such as hectorite and a diluent. Some authigenic dioctahedral montmorillonite, found only in small quantities close to the tuffs, was formed by alteration of the volcanic glass of the tuffs and was then admixed with the overlying or underlying detrital clays. The only authigenic clay-type mineral found in any significant quantity is sepiolite, found near the edges of the lake basin and stratigraphically located mainly within a meter of the two uppermost tuffs. This sepiolite probably was precipitated when silica became available to the magnesium-bearing lake water through dissolution of the volcanic ash. Precipitation of sepiolite probably did not occur within the tuffs owing to the presence of alumina in solution. Zeolites were produced there and sepiolite formed outside the margins of the tuffs. Also formed by the high-pH lake waters were water-soluble minerals, which were found widely dispersed in crusts or streaks on the clays. Much of the calcite was likely precipitated from the lake waters, especially near the north end of the lake where calciumbearing fresh water came into contact with the C02-rich lake waters. Magadiite, a sodium silicate mineral reported only twice previously in the United States, was found in small quantities in the southern end of the basin. This mineral is indicative of a minimum pH of 8.5. The authigenic minerals formed in the lake reflect the presence of silica-rich tuffs and the high-pH, alkaline character of the lake waters.

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Clay mineralogy of Pleistocene Lake Tecopa, Inyo County, California
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Professional Paper
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U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
34 p.