Existing hydrologic models of the Death Valley region typically have defined the Cenozoic basins as those areas that are covered by recent surficial deposits, and have treated the basin-fill deposits that are concealed under alluvium as a single unit with uniform hydrologic properties throughout the region, and with depth. Although this latter generalization was known to be flawed, it evidently was made because available geologic syntheses did not provide the basis for a more detailed characterization. As an initial attempt to address this problem, this report presents a compilation and synthesis of existing and new surface and subsurface data on the lithologic variations between and within the Cenozoic basin fills of this region. The most permeable lithologies in the Cenozoic basin fills are freshwater limestones, unaltered densely welded tuffs, and little-consolidated coarse alluvium. The least permeable lithologies are playa claystones, altered nonwelded tuffs, and tuffaceous and clay-matrix sediments of several types. In all but the youngest of the basin fills, permeability probably decreases strongly with depth owing to a typically increasing abundance of volcanic ash or clay in the matrices of the clastic sediments with increasing age (and therefore with increasing depth in general), and to increasing consolidation and alteration (both hydrothermal and diagenetic) with increasing depth and age. This report concludes with a categorization of the Cenozoic basins of the Death Valley region according to the predominant lithologies in the different basin fills and presents qualitative constraints on the hydrologic properties of these major lithologic categories.
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USGS Numbered Series
Facies analysis of Tertiary basin-filling rocks of the Death Valley regional ground-water system and surrounding areas, Nevada and California