Skip to main content Accessibility help

Tectonic Speleogenesis of Devils Hole, Nevada, and Implications for Hydrogeology and the Development of Long, Continuous Paleoenvironmental Records

  • Alan C. Riggs (a1), W.J. Carr (a2), Peter T. Kolesar (a3) and Ray J. Hoffman (a4)


Devils Hole, in southern Nevada, is a surface collapse into a deep, planar, steeply dipping fault-controlled fissure in Cambrian limestone and dolostone. The collapse intersects the water table about 15 m below land surface and the fissure extends at least 130 m deeper. Below water, most of the fissure is lined with a >30-cm-thick layer of dense maxillary calcite that precipitated continuously from groundwater for >500,000 yr. The thick mammillary calcite coat implies a long history of calcite-supersaturated groundwaters, which, combined with the absence of dissolutional morphologies, suggests that Devils Hole was not formed by karst processes. Devils Hole is located in a region of active extension; its tectonic origin is shown by evidence of spreading of its planar opening along a fault and by the orientation of its opening and others nearby, perpendicular to the northwest-southeast minimum principal stress direction of the region. Most Quaternary tectonic activity in the area, including seismicity and Quaternary faults and fractures, occurs on or parallel to northeast-striking structures. The hydrogeologic implications of this primarily structural origin are that fracture networks and caves opened by extensional tectonism can act as groundwater flowpaths functionally similar to those developed by karst processes and that, during active extension, transmissivity can be maintained despite infilling by mineral precipitation. Such extensional environments can provide conditions favorable for accumulation of deposits preserving long, continuous paleoenvironmental records. The precipitates in Devils Hole store chronologies of flow system water-level fluctuations, hydrochemistry, a half-million-yr proxy paleoclimate record, evidence of Devils Hole's tectonic origin, and probably atmospheric circulation.



Hide All
Carr, W. J. (1974). “Summary of Tectonic and Structural Evidence for Stress Orientation at the Nevada Test Site.” U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 74176.
Carr, W. J. (1984). “Regional Structural Setting of Yucca Mountain, Southwestern Nevada, and Late Cenozoic Rates of Tectonic Activity in Part of the Southwestern Great Basin, Nevada and California.” U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 84854.
Carr, W. J. (1988). “Geology of the Devils Hole Area, Nevada.” U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 87560.
Carr, W. J. (1990). Styles of extension in the Nevada Test Site region, southern Walker Lane Belt: An integration of volcano-tectonic and detachment models. In “Basin and Range Extensional Tectonics Near the Latitude of Las Vegas, Nevada” (Wernicke, B. P., Ed.), Geological Society of America Memoir 176, pp. 283304.
Coplen, T. B. Winograd, I. J. Landwehr, J. M., and Riggs, A. C. (1994). 500,000-year stable carbon isotopic record from Devils Hole, Nevada. Science 263, 361365.
Dettinger, M. D. (1989). “Distribution of Carbonate-Rock Aquifers in Southern Nevada and the Potential for Their Development: Summary of Findings, 1985-88.” Program for the Study and Testing of Carbonate-Rock Aquifers in Eastern and Southern Nevada, Summary Report No. 1.
Dreybrodt, W. (1988). “Processes in Karst Systems—Physics, Chemistry, and Geology.” Springer Verlag, Berlin.
Dudley, W. W., and Larson, J. D. (1976). “Effect of Irrigation Pumping on Desert Pupfish Habitats in Ash Meadows, Nye County, Nevada.” U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 927.
Eakin, T. E. (1966). A regional inlerbasin groundwater system in the White River area, southeastern Nevada. Water Resources Research 2, 251271.
Ford, D. C. Lundberg, J. Palmer, A. N. Palmer, M. V. Dreybrodt, W., and Schwarcz, H. P. (1993). Uranium-series dating of the draining of an aquifer: the example of Wind Cave, Black Hills, South Dakota. Geological Society of America Bulletin 105, 241250.
Hay, R. L. Pexton, R. E. Teague, T. T., and Kyser, T. K. (1986). Spring-related carbonate rocks, Mg clays, and associated minerals in Pliocene deposits of the Amargosa Desert, Nevada and California. Geological Society of America Bulletin 97, 14881503.
Hill, C. A., and Forti, P. (1986). “Cave Minerals of the World.” National Speleological Society, Huntsville, AL.
Ludwig, K. R. Simmons, K. R. Szabo, B. J. Winograd, I. J. Landwehr, J. M-, Riggs, A. C., and Hoffman, R. J. (1992). Mass spectrometric 230Th-2:}4U-238U dating of the Devils Hole calcite vein. Science 258, 284287.
Naff, R. L. (1973). “Hydrogeology of the Southern Part of the Amargosa Desert in Nevada.” Unpublished thesis, University of Nevada, Reno.
Riggs, A. C. (1984). Major carbon-14 deficiency in modem snail shells from southern Nevada springs. Science 224, 5861.
Stewart, J. H. (1980). “Geology of Nevada.” Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication 4.
Stock, J. M. Healy, J. H. Hickman, S. H., and Zoback, M. D. (1985). Hydraulic fracturing stress measurements at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and relationship to the regional stress field. Journal of Geophysical Research 90(B10), 86918706.
Szabo, B. J. Kolesar, P. T. Riggs, A. C. Winograd, I. J., and Ludwig, K. R. (1994). Paleoclimatic Inferences from a 120,000-Yr Calcite Record of Water-Table Fluctuation in Brown’s Room of Devils Hole, Nevada. Quaternary Research 41, 5969.
Wernicke, B. Axen, G. J., and Snow, J. K. (1988). Basin and Range extensional tectonics at the latitude of Las Vegas, Nevada. Geological Society of America Bulletin 100, 17381757.
White, W. B. (1988). “Geomorphology and Hydrology of Karst Terrains,” Chaps. 8-9. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.
Winograd, I. J., and Doty, G. C. (1980). “Paleohydrology of the South’ em Great Basin, with Special Reference to Water Table Fluctuations beneath the Nevada Test Site during the Late(?) Pleistocene.” U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 80569.
Winograd, I. J., and Pearson, F. J. (1976). Major carbon 14 anomaly in a regional carbonate aquifer: Possible evidence for megascale channeling, south central Great Basin. Water Resources Research 12, 11251143.
Winograd, I. J., and Szabo, B. J. (1988). Water-table decline in the south-central Great Basin during the Quaternary: Implications for toxic waste disposal. In “Geologic and Hydrologic Investigations of a Potential Nuclear Waste Disposal Site at Yucca Mountain, Southern Nevada” (Carr, M. D., and Yount, J. C., Eds.), U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin, 1790, pp. 147152.
Winograd, I. J., and Thordarson, W. (1975). “Hydrogeologic and Hydrochemical Framework, South-Central Great Basin, Nevada-California, with Special Reference to the Nevada Test Site.” U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 712-C.
Winograd, I. J. Szabo, B. J. Coplen, T. B. Riggs, A. C., and Kolesar, P. T. (1985). Two-million-year record of deuterium depletion in Great Basin ground waters. Science 227, 519522.
Winograd, I. J. Szabo, B. J. Coplen, T. B., and Riggs, A. C. (1988). A 250,000-year climatic record from Great Basin vein calcite: Implications for Milankovitch theory. Science 242, 12751280.
Winograd, I. J. Coplen, T. B. Landwehr, J. M. Riggs, A. C. Ludwig, K. M. Szabo, B. J. Kolesar, P. T., and Revesz, K. M. (1992). Continuous 500,000-year climate record from vein calcite in Devils Hole, Nevada. Science 258, 255260.
Zoback, M. L. (1989). State of stress and modem deformation of the northern Basin and Range Province. Journal of Geophysical Research 94, 71057128.
Zoback, M. L., and Zoback, M. D. (1980). State of stress in the conterminous United States. Journal of Geophysical Research 85, 61136156.

Tectonic Speleogenesis of Devils Hole, Nevada, and Implications for Hydrogeology and the Development of Long, Continuous Paleoenvironmental Records

  • Alan C. Riggs (a1), W.J. Carr (a2), Peter T. Kolesar (a3) and Ray J. Hoffman (a4)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed