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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5134

Characterization of Geologic Deposits in the Vicinity of US Ecology, Amargosa Basin, Southern Nevada

By Emily M. Taylor

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Multiple approaches have been applied to better understand the characteristics of geologic units exposed at the surface and buried at depth in the vicinity of US Ecology (USE), a low-level commercial waste site in the northern Amargosa Desert, Nevada. Techniques include surficial geologic mapping and interpretation of the subsurface using borehole data. Dated deposits at depth were used to estimate rates of sediment accumulation. The subsurface lithologies have been modeled in three dimensions. Lithologic cross sections have been created from the three-dimensional model and have been compared to resistivity data at the same location. Where deposits appear offset, a fault was suspected. Global Positioning System elevation transects were measured and trenches were excavated to locate a strand of the Carrara Fault. The presence of the fault helps to better understand the shape of the potentiometric surface. These data will be used to better understand the hydrologic parameters controlling the containment of the waste at US Ecology.

Quaternary geologic units exposed at the surface, in the vicinity of US Ecology, are derived from the alluvium shed off the adjacent range front and the Amargosa River. These deposits vary from modern to early Pleistocene in age. At depth, heterogeneous sands and gravel occur. Observed in deep trenches and boreholes, the subsurface deposits are characterized as fining-upward sequence of sediment from 5- to 8-meters thick. No volcanic units or fine-grained playa deposits were described in the boreholes to a depth of 200 meters. Based on Infrared Stimulated Luminescence dated core samples, short-term rates of sediment accumulation (<70,000 years) are an average of 2.7 millimeters per year, however, long-term rates (<3,900,000 years) are orders of magnitude less. Resistivity data, when compared to lithologic cross sections, generally are consistent with lithology grain size and probable soil carbonate accumulations. Surface resistivity displays a fining-upward sequence of sediments at the surface with a soil carbonate imprint. Finally, trenching north of US Ecology successfully exposed offset Quaternary deposits on a splay of the Carrara Fault. Holocene deposits do not appear to be faulted, however, a fault zone does intersect middle and late Pleistocene aged units.

First posted November 9, 2010

For additional information contact:

USGS Geology and Environmental Change Science Center
Box 25046, Mail Stop 980
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Taylor, E.M., 2010, Characterization of geologic deposits in the vicinity of US Ecology, Amargosa Basin, southern Nevada: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5134, 194 p.




Surficial Geology of the Upper Amargosa River Valley

Evolution of the Amargosa Basin

Estimated Rates of Basin Aggradation in the Vicinity of US Ecology

Three-Dimensional Lithologic Model of the Subsurface Geology

Comparison of Direct Current Resistivity Profile Data to the Three-Dimensional Lithologic Model

Activity on the Carrara Fault

Potentiometric Surface


Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendix 1

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