Devils Hole, in southern Nevada, is a surface collapse into a deep, planar, steeply dipping fault-controlled fissure in Cambrian limestone and dolostone. The collapse intersects the water table about 15 m below land surface and the fissure extends at least 130 m deeper. Below water, most of the fissure is lined with a >30-cm-thick layer of dense maxillary calcite that precipitated continuously from groundwater for >500,000 yr. The thick mammillary calcite coat implies a long history of calcite-supersaturated groundwaters, which, combined with the absence of dissolutional morphologies, suggests that Devils Hole was not formed by karst processes. Devils Hole is located in a region of active extension; its tectonic origin is shown by evidence of spreading of its planar opening along a fault and by the orientation of its opening and others nearby, perpendicular to the northwest-southeast minimum principal stress direction of the region. Most Quaternary tectonic activity in the area, including seismicity and Quaternary faults and fractures, occurs on or parallel to northeast-striking structures. The hydrogeologic implications of this primarily structural origin are that fracture networks and caves opened by extensional tectonism can act as groundwater flowpaths functionally similar to those developed by karst processes and that, during active extension, transmissivity can be maintained despite infilling by mineral precipitation. Such extensional environments can provide conditions favorable for accumulation of deposits preserving long, continuous paleoenvironmental records. The precipitates in Devils Hole store chronologies of flow system water-level fluctuations, hydrochemistry, a half-million-yr proxy paleoclimate record, evidence of Devils Hole's tectonic origin, and probably atmospheric circulation.
Additional publication details
Tectonic Speleogenesis of Devils Hole, Nevada, and Implications for Hydrogeology and the Development of Long, Continuous Paleoenvironmental Records