Link to USGS home page.

Probability Distributions of Hydraulic Conductivity for the Hydrogeologic Units of the Death Valley Regional Ground-Water Flow System, Nevada and California

By Wayne R. Belcher, Donald S. Sweetkind, and Peggy E. Elliott


The use of geologic information such as lithology and rock properties is important to constrain conceptual and numerical hydrogeologic models. This geologic information is difficult to apply explicitly to numerical modeling and analyses because it tends to be qualitative rather than quantitative. This study uses a compilation of hydraulic-conductivity measurements to derive estimates of the probability distributions for several hydrogeologic units within the Death Valley regional ground-water flow system, a geologically and hydrologically complex region underlain by basin-fill sediments, volcanic, intrusive, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. Probability distributions of hydraulic conductivity for general rock types have been studied previously; however, this study provides more detailed definition of hydrogeologic units based on lithostratigraphy, lithology, alteration, and fracturing and compares the probability distributions to the aquifer test data. Results suggest that these probability distributions can be used for studies involving, for example, numerical flow modeling, recharge, evapotranspiration, and rainfall runoff. These probability distributions can be used for such studies involving the hydrogeologic units in the region, as well as for similar rock types elsewhere.

Within the study area, fracturing appears to have the greatest influence on the hydraulic conductivity of carbonate bedrock hydrogeologic units. Similar to earlier studies, we find that alteration and welding in the Tertiary volcanic rocks greatly influence hydraulic conductivity. As alteration increases, hydraulic conductivity tends to decrease. Increasing degrees of welding appears to increase hydraulic conductivity because welding increases the brittleness of the volcanic rocks, thus increasing the amount of fracturing.

Return to WRIR 02-4212 Home.

Send questions or comments about this report to the Nevada District Web Team.

For more information about USGS activities in Nevada, visit the USGS Nevada District home page.