The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) at their Nevada Site Office (NSO) are addressing ground-water contamination resulting from historical underground nuclear testing through the Environmental Management (EM) program and, in particular, the Underground Test Area (UGTA) project.
From 1951 to 1992, 828 underground nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site northwest of Las Vegas (DOE UGTA, 2003). Most of these tests were conducted hundreds of feet above the ground-water table; however, more than 200 of the tests were near, or within, the water table. This underground testing was limited to specific areas of the Nevada Test Site including Pahute Mesa, Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain (RM-SM), Frenchman Flat, and Yucca Flat.
One issue of concern is the nature of the somewhat poorly constrained pre-Tertiary geology and its effects on ground-water flow in the area subsequent to a nuclear test. Ground-water modelers would like to know more about the hydrostratigraphy and geologic structure to support a hydrostratigraphic framework model that is under development for the Rainier Mesa/Shoshone Mountain (RM-SM) Corrective Action Unit (CAU) (National Security Technologies, 2007).
During 2003, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the DOE and NNSA-NSO collected and processed data at the Nevada Test Site in and near Yucca Flat (YF) to help define the character, thickness, and lateral extent of the pre-Tertiary confining units. We collected 51 magnetotelluric (MT) and audio-magnetotelluric (AMT) stations for that research (Williams and others, 2005a, 2005b, 2005c, 2005d, 2005e, and 2005f). In early 2005 we extended that research with 26 additional MT data stations (Williams and others, 2006) located on and near Rainier Mesa and Shoshone Mountain (RM-SM). The new stations extended the area of the hydrogeologic study previously conducted in Yucca Flat, further refining what is known about the pre-Tertiary confining units. In particular, a major goal was to define the extent of the upper clastic confining unit (UCCU). The UCCU is composed of late Devonian to Mississippian siliciclastic rocks assigned to the Eleana Formation and Chainman Shale (National Security Technologies, 2007). The UCCU underlies the Yucca Flat area and extends southwestward toward Shoshone Mountain, westward toward Buckboard Mesa, and northwestward toward Rainier Mesa. Late in 2005 we collected data at an additional 14 MT stations in Mid Valley, CP Hills, and northern Yucca Flat. That work was done to better determine the extent and thickness of the UCCU near the boundary between the southeastern RM-SM CAU and the southwestern YF CAU, and also in the northern YF CAU. The MT data have been released in a separate U.S. Geological Survey report (Williams and others, 2007).
The Nevada Test Site magnetotelluric data interpretation presented in this report includes the results of detailed two-dimensional (2-D) resistivity modeling for each profile and inferences on the three-dimensional (3-D) character of the geology within the region.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Deep Resistivity Structure of Mid Valley, Nevada Test Site, Nevada