Estimates of Deep Percolation Beneath Native Vegetation, Irrigated Fields, and The Amargosa-River Channel, Amargosa Desert, Nye County, Nevada
GEOLOGICAL SURVEY CARSON CITY NV
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The presence and approximate rates of deep percolation beneath areas of native vegetation, irrigated fields, and the Amargosa-River channel in the Amargosa Desert of southern Nevada were evaluated using the chloride mass-balance method and inferred downward velocities of chloride and nitrate peaks. Estimates of deep-percolation rates in the Amargosa Desert are needed for the analysis of regional groundwater flow and transport. An understanding of regional flow patterns is important because ground water originating on the Nevada Test Site may pass through the area before discharging from springs at lower elevations in the Amargosa Desert and in Death Valley. Nine boreholes 10 to 16 meters deep were cored nearly continuously using a hollow-stem auger designed for gravelly sediments. Two boreholes were drilled in each of three irrigated fields in the Amargosa-Farms area, two in the Amargosa-River channel, and one in an undisturbed area of native vegetation. Data from previously cored boreholes beneath undisturbed, native vegetation were compared with the new data to further assess deep percolation under current climatic conditions and provide information on spatial variability. The profiles beneath native vegetation were characterized by large amounts of accumulated chloride just below the root zone with almost no further accumulation at greater depths. This pattern is typical of profiles beneath interfluvial areas in arid alluvial basins of the southwestern United States, where salts have been accumulating since the end of the Pleistocene. The profiles beneath irrigated fields and the Amargosa-River channel contained more than twice the volume of water compared to profiles beneath native vegetation, consistent with active deep percolation beneath these sites. Chloride profiles beneath two older fields cultivated since the 1960s as well as the upstream Amargosa-River site were indicative of long-term, quasi-steady deep percolation.
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