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Understanding Geohydrology - Research Goal 4

In many areas throughout the Western U.S., understanding how basin-fill aquifers--the main water supplies for many cities in the western U.S.--interact with basement aquifers is increasingly important for not only determining water quantity, but also water quality. Understanding how these aquifers interact will aid in delineating groundwater paths throughout the Desert Southwest, particularly along the California-Nevada border and in southern California.  

We are working along the California-Nevada border in the Amargosa Desert, where interbasin flow through the regional carbonate basement aquifer has recently been questioned (Nelson and others, 2004, Eos, v. 85(37), p. 355-356).  The interbasin flow hypothesis suggests that groundwater moves through various topographically closed basins (such as Yucca and Frenchman Flats, Mercury Valley) to a single groundwater basin tributary to the springs at Ash Meadows in the east central Amargosa Desert.  Nelson and others argue however that it is unlikely that groundwater can flow across the "core zones" of faults. The work builds upon the legacy of Task 1 of this project (sunseted in FY04) and the Death Valley Mapping project (also sunseted).

Another area of interest are large expanses of crystalline basement separated by alluvial valleys throughout the eastern Transverse Ranges, Mojave Desert, and Peninsular Ranges.  It is not known how basin-fill aquifers interact with potential aquifers within basement (presumably fracture-dominated).  Although much of this region may be sparsely populated at present, and its groundwater resources largely untapped, it is certain that as the population expands and the more readily exploited groundwater resources are depleted, aquifers in these areas will play a more significant role. We are building on and augmenting work under other geologic mapping projects ( and the Desert Southwest (

To understand the interaction of basin-fill and basement aquifers requires, among many things, determining the geometry of the basin-fill aquifer, fractures and faults that reside both within the basin-fill aquifer and the basement, and the evolution of structure and stratigraphy within these aquifers.  An important element of this investigation is to develop effective methods for mapping structures that affect both basin-fill and basement aquifers and for mapping (and extrapolating throughout the volume of the region) the hydrologic characteristics of these aquifers.


Langenheim, V.E., Powelll, R.E., and Biehler, S., 2006, Basins formed by interaction of left-and right-lateral faults in the Eastern Transverse Ranges, southern California:  EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, v. 87(52), T21B-0405.

Scheirer, D., Sweetkind, D., and Miller, J., 2006, Seismic reflection and gravity evidence for multiple phases of basin formation in Pahrump and Mesquite Valleys, Nevada and California:  EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, v. 87(52), T21B-0410.

Blakely, Richard J., McPhee, Darcy K., Morin, Robert L., Sweetkind, Donald S., Jansen, John R., and King, Michael, J., 2007, Regional Geophysical investigations and Implications for the Southern Amargosa desert embedded Model (SAMM), California and Nevada, poster, Devils Hole workshop, April, 2007.

Langenheim, V.E., McPhee, D.K., Powell, R.E., and Biehler, Shawn, 2007, Mapping the subsurface of Joshua Tree National Park, southern California, using new geophysical data:  Geological Society of America Program with Abstracts, v. 39, no. 6, p. 377.

Research Products

V.E. Langenheim, Shawn Biehler, D.K. McPhee, C.A. McCabe, J.T. Watt, M. Anderson, B.A. Chuchel, and P. Stoffer, 2007, Preliminary Isostatic Gravity Map of Joshua Tree National Park, southern California, USGS, Open-File Report 2007-1218.

McPhee, D.K., Langenheim, V.E., Chuchel, B., Pellerin, L., 2008, An integrated geophysical approach for groundwater and seismic hazard management in Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California, in Proceedings of the 21st Annual Symposium on the Application of Geophysics to Engineering and Environmental Problems (SAGEEP), April 6-10, 2008, Philadephia, PA, p.510-518.

Langenheim, V.E., and Powell, R.E., 2009, Basin geometry and cumulative offsets in the Eastern Transverse Ranges, southern California:  Implications for transrotational deformation along the San Andreas fault system:  Geosphere, v. 5, no. 1, p. 1-22.

Scheirer, D.S., Sweetkind, D.S., and John Miller, 2010, Multiple phases of basin formation along the Stateline fault system in the Pahrump and Mesquite Valleys, Nevada and California: Geosphere, April, 2010, v. 6, no. 2, p. 93-129, doi: 10.1130/GES00520.1.

Langenheim, V.E., and Hill, P.L., 2010, Preliminary aeromagnetic map of Joshua Tree National Park and vicinity: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1070,


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