The Permian salt basin in the Western Interior of the United States is defined as that region comprising a series of sedimentary basins in which halite and associated salts accumulated during Permian time. The region includes the western parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and eastern parts of Colorado and New Mexico.
Following a long period of general tectonic stability throughout the region during most of early Paleozoic time, there was much tectonic activity in the area of the Permian salt basin during Late Pennsylvanian and Early Permian time just before bedded salt was deposited. The Early Permian tectonism was followed by stabilization of the basins in which the salt was deposited. These salt basins were neither contemporaneous nor continuous throughout the region, so that many salt beds are also discontinuous. In general, beds in the northern part of the basin (Kansas and northern Oklahoma) are older and the salt is progressively younger towards the south.
Since Permian time the Permian salt basin has been relatively stable tectonically. Regionally, the area of the salt basin has been tilted and warped, has undergone periods of erosion, and has been subject to a major incursion of the sea; but deep-seated faults or igneous intrusions that postdate Permian salt are rare. In areas of the salt basin where salt is near the surface, such as southeastern New Mexico and central Kansas, there are no indications of younger deep-seated faulting and only a few isolated igneous intrusives of post-Permian age.
On the other hand, subsidence or collapse of the land surface resulting from dissolution has been commonplace in the Permian salt basin. Some dissolution of salt deposits has probably been taking place ever since deposition of the salt more than 230 million years ago. Nevertheless, the subsurface dissolution fronts of the thick bedded-salt deposits of the Permian basin have retreated at a very slow average rate during that 230 million years.
The preservation of bedded salt from subsurface dissolution depends chiefly on the isolation of the salt from moving ground water that is not completely saturated with salt. Karst topography is a major criterion for recognizing areas where subsurface dissolution has been active in the past; therefore, the age of the karst development is needed to provide the most accurate estimate of the dissolution rate. The Ogallala Formation-of Pliocene age is probably the most widespread deposit in the Permian salt basin that can be used as a point of reference for dating the development of recent topography. It is estimated that salt has been dissolved laterally in the vicinity of Carlsbad, New Mexico, at an average rate of about 6-8 miles per million years.
Estimates of future rates of salt dissolution and the resulting lateral retreat of the underground dissolution front can be projected with reasonable confidence for southeastern New Mexico on the assumption that the climatic changes there in the past 4 million years are representative of climatic changes that may be expected in the near future of geologic time.
Large amounts of salt are carried by present-day rivers in the Permian salt basin; some of the salt is derived from subsurface salt beds, but dissolution is relatively slow. Ground-water movement through the Permian salt basin is also relatively slow.