As a consequence of the 1969-1970 flooding of normally dry Owens Lake, a 2.4-m-deep lake formed and 20% of the 2-m-thick salt bed dissolved in it. Its desiccation began August 1969, and salts started crystallizing September 1970, ending August 1971. Mineralogic, brine-composition, and stable-isotope data plus field observations showed that while the evolving brine composition established the general crystallization timetable and range of primary and secondary mineral assemblages, it was the daily, monthly, and seasonal temperature changes that controlled the details of timing and mineralogy during this depositional process. Deuterium analyses of lake brine, interstitial brine, and hydrated saline phases helped confirm the sequence of mineral crystallizations and transformations, and they documented the sources and temperatures of waters involved in the reactions. Salts first crystallized as floating rafts on the lake surface. Natron and mirabilite, salts whose solubilities decrease greatly with lowering temperatures, crystallized late at night in winter, when surface-water temperatures reached their minima; trona, nahcolite, burkeite, and halite, salts with solubilities less sensitive to temperature, crystallized during the afternoon in summer, when surface salinities reached their maxima. However, different temperatures were generally associated with crystallization (at the surface) and accumulation (on the lake floor) because short-term temperature changes were transmitted to surface and bottom waters at different rates. Consequently, even when solubilities were exceeded at the surface, salts were preserved or not as a function of bottom-water temperatures. Halite, a nearly temperature-insensitive salt, was always preserved. Monitoring the lake-brine chemistry and mineralogy of the accumulating salts shows: (1) An estimated 0.9 ?? 106 tons of CO2 was released to the atmosphere or consumed by the lake's biomass prior to most salt crystallization. (2) After deposition, some salts reacted in situ to form other minerals in less than one month, and all salts (except halite) decomposed or recrystallized at least once in response to seasons. (3) Warming in early 1971 caused solution of all the mirabilite and some of the natron deposited a few months earlier, a deepening of the lake (though the lake-surface lowered), and an increase in dissolved solids. (4) Phase and solubility-index data suggest that at the close of desiccation, Na2CO3??7H2O, never reported as a mineral, could have been the next phase to crystallize. ?? 1987.
Additional publication details
Studies of Quaternary saline lakes-III. Mineral, chemical, and isotopic evidence of salt solution and crystallization processes in Owens Lake, California, 1969-1971