The saltiest springs in the Sierra Nevada, California

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5053

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The five saltiest springs in the Sierra Nevada in California are found between 38.5° and 38.8° N. latitude, on the South Fork American River; on Caples Creek, a tributary of the Silver Fork American River; and on the North Fork Mokelumne River. The springs issue from Cretaceous granitic rocks in the bottoms of these major canyons, between 1,200- and 2,200-m elevation. All of these springs were well known to Native Americans, who excavated meter-sized basins in the granitic rock, within which they produced salt by evaporation near at least four of the five spring sites. The spring waters are dominated by Cl, Na, and Ca; are enriched relative to seawater in Ca, Li, and As; and are depleted in SO4, Mg, and K. Tritium analyses indicate that the spring waters have had little interaction with rainfall since about 1954. The waters are apparently an old groundwater of meteoric origin that resided at depth before moving up along fractures to the surface of the exhumed granitic rocks. However, along the way these waters incorporated salts from depth, the origin of which could have been either from marine sedimentary rocks intruded by the granitic magmas or from fluid inclusions in the granitic rocks. Prolonged storage at depth fostered water-rock interactions that undoubtedly modified the fluid compositions.

Suggested Citation

Moore, J.G., Diggles, M.F., Evans, W.C., and Klemic, K., 2017, The saltiest springs in the Sierra Nevada, California: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5053, 21 p., 2 appendixes,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • History 
  • Previous Work
  • Methods
  • Saline Springs
  • Spring-Water Compositions
  • Origin of Saline Waters
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1
  • Appendix 2

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
The saltiest springs in the Sierra Nevada, California
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Volcano Science Center
v, 21 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Sierra Nevada
Online Only (Y/N):