Searles Lake is a dry salt pan, about 100 km 2 in area, that lies on the floor of Searles Valley, in the desert of southeast California. Several salt bodies of late Quaternary age lie beneath the surface, mostly composed of sodium and potassium carbonate, sulfate, chloride, and borate minerals. Mud layers separate the salt bodies, which contain interstitial brine that is the source of large quantities of industrial chemicals. The value of annual production from the deposit exceeds $30 million; total production to date exceeds $1 billion.
The salts and muds were deposited during Pleistocene and Holocene times by a series of large lakes (200 m maximum depth, 1,000 km 2 maximum area) that fluctuated in size in response to climatic change. Salts were deposited during major dry (interpluvial) episodes, muds during wet (pluvial) episodes that correlate with glacial advances in other parts of North America and the world. Data based on cores from the deposit are used in this paper to establish the stratigraphy of the deposit, the chemical and mineral compositions of successive units, and the total quantities of components contained by them. These parameters are then used to determine the geochemical evolution of the sedimentary layers. The results provide a refined basis for reconstructing the limnology of Searles Lake and the regional climate during late Quaternary time. Six main stratigraphic units were distinguished and informally named earlier on the basis of their dominant composition:
Unit Typical thickness 14C age, uncorrected
(in meters) (years B.P.)
Overburden Mud 7 0 to >3,500
Upper Salt 15 >3,500 to 10,500
Parting Mud 4 10,500 to 24,000
Lower Salt 12 24,000 to 32,500
Bottom Mud 30 32,500 to 130,000
Mixed Layer 200+ > 130,000
(The age of 130,000 years for the Mixed Layer is based on extrapolated sedimentation rates.) The Lower Salt is subdivided into seven salt units (S-l to S-7) and six mud units (M-2 to M-7), the Mixed Layer into six units (A to F). For each salt unit, the areal extent, volume, shape, mineralogy, and chemical composition of the solids and brines have been determined; for each mud unit (which originally extended over much of the basin), the shape and volume within a standard area, and the mineralogy, have been determined. The bulk compositions (brines plus salts) of the combined Lower Salt units S-l to S-5 and units S-6 and S-7, and the Upper Salt, were determined so that the total quantities and ratios of ions in the initial brines could be reconstructed.
The 74 published HC dates on Searles Lake core samples from all but the oldest unit are supplemented by 14 new dates (determined by Minze Stuiver) on the Lower Salt. Most of the age control comes from dates based on disseminated organic carbon; two dates are on wood; dates on carbonate minerals are less reliable. Although the probable disequilibrium between the carbon in the lake and atmosphere (because of contamination, slow equilibrium rates, and other factors) causes disseminated carbon dates to be an estimated 500-2,500 years 'too old,' the ages of the major and minor units are relatively well established. The list above indicates rounded and uncorrected ages for the contacts of major units. The age of the only salt bed in the Lower Salt which indicates desiccation (S-5) is about 28,000 years. The average uncorrected sedimentation rate in the Parting Mud is 4
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Subsurface stratigraphy and geochemistry of late Quaternary evaporites, Searles Lake, California, with a section on radiocarbon ages of stratigraphic units