Oasis near Death Valley fed by ancient aquifer under Nevada Test Site

Jun 03, 2010

Every minute, 10,000 gallons of water mysteriously gush out of the desert floor at a place called Ash Meadows, an oasis that is home to 24 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world.

A new Brigham Young University study indicates that the water arriving at Ash Meadows is completing a 15,000-year journey, flowing slowly underground from what is now the Nevada Test Site.

The U.S. government tested nuclear bombs there for four decades, and a crack in the Earth's crust known as the "Gravity Fault" connects its aquifer with Ash Meadows.

It will presumably be another 15,000 years before surfaces at Ash Meadows, Nelson said. A more pressing issue for wildlife managers at Ash Meadows is the current decline in populations of Devil's Hole Pupfish and three other endangered .

"Since the crust in Western states is being pulled apart east to west, it creates north-south fault lines such as this one that guides groundwater from one geographically closed basin to another," said Stephen Nelson, a BYU geology professor and co-author of the study.

The study appears in the May 28 issue of the Journal of Hydrology.

Of the possible sources, only water from the Nevada Test Site matched the profile of dissolved minerals and had comparable hydrogen and . Water from the Spring Mountains near Las Vegas - previously assumed to be the source of Ash Meadows water - carried a different isotopic signature.

The BYU researchers combed through more than 4,000 published water samples from the region, many of those from U.S. Geological Survey wells. From this large data set emerged 246 distinct groundwater sources that they tested against the chemical make-up of water from Ash Meadows.

"The results are parsimonious," Nelson said. "A majority of the water at Ash Meadows flows from the north through fractures in the Gravity Fault."

Explore further: Plate tectonics: What set the Earth's plates in motion?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Caustic ash left behind by wildfires

Dec 06, 2007

U.S. geologists say ash and debris from California wildfires is full of arsenic, lead and other caustic materials that pose a health and safety risk.

Icelandic volcanoes can be unpredictable and dangerous

Apr 16, 2010

If history is any indication, the erupting volcano in Iceland and its immense ash plume could intensify, says a Texas A&M University researcher who has explored Icelandic volcanoes for the past 25 years.

New ash studies needed to 'limit air traffic chaos'

Apr 18, 2010

Better research models of how ash is dispersed would greatly reduce the air traffic havoc wreaked in Europe since an Icelandic volcano began spewing a giant cloud of the toxic dust last week, an expert said ...

Recommended for you

NASA sees Tropical Storm Kalmaegi weakening over Vietnam

3 hours ago

Tropical Storm Kalmaegi made landfall on September 17 near the border of Vietnam and China and moved inland. Soon after the landfall as a typhoon, NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead and captured an image ...

NASA air campaigns focus on Arctic climate impacts

4 hours ago

Over the past few decades, average global temperatures have been on the rise, and this warming is happening two to three times faster in the Arctic. As the region's summer comes to a close, NASA is hard at ...

NASA image: Smoke wafts over the Selway Valley in Idaho

4 hours ago

Smoke from the fires in the Selway Complex is wafting into the Selway River valley in this image taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on September ...

User comments : 0