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Nate Pimental

Professor Cardace-Fall 2016
GEO 103 Points of Evidence for Research-Evidence

Research Question: What is behind the Geologic features and the history they
portray to us
today at Death Valley National Park?
Low Lying Basins
Low-lying basins are important geologic features in the landscape of Death Valley
National Park and are important in making this incredible park what it is today. One basin that
caught my interest was bad water basin which is the most widely known basin at Death Valley.
Bad water basin is known as the lowest point in North America. It is 282 feet below sea level and
anyone willing to visit bad water would be able to see this incredible view above. Now when we
look at how bad water basin formed, we can see that some geologic phenomenon must have

formed this unique low lying area. According to a scholarly scientific article, Death Valley is a
pull-apart basin bounded by two right-lateral fault systems, the Northern Death Valley and
Southern Death Valley fault zones, and one normal fault system, the Black Mountains fault
zone. (Mitchell S. Craig, 2011) As you can see these fault zones and crustal movement helped
formed low lying basins like bad water basin. The pulling apart of big blocks of land slid past
each other along faults forming many basins within the park. As you can see, the formation of
basins is important in making bad water basin such an iconic spot to visit within the park today.

Mountain Ranges within the Park
There are two main mountain ranges within the park including the Black Mountains on
the east side of the park and the Panamint mountains on the west side of the park. Crustal
movement was a big part in the formation in the origins of the park nearly 3 million years ago.
As the ancient lakes receded due to change in climate, the land to the west started rising up
causing mountain ranges in the park. Movement well beneath the earth was most likely the

greatest cause of the mountain ranges forming. According to a scholarly source from the
National Park Service, Scientists have discovered that the Earths crust is composed of interconnected sections, or plates. Death Valley lies near the boundary between two of these plates.
As the plates slowly move in relation to each other, compressional forces gradually fold, warp
and fracture the brittle crust. (National Park Service, 2016) The origins of these incredible
mountain ranges located throughout the park show that a long period of time of formation
occurred to form these mountains that we see today.

Salt Flats within Death Valley National Park

Salt Flats are a very interesting part of the geology at Death Valley National Park. Now you are
probably wondering how so much salt got in one area like the one shown above? Salt flats are
very prominent to the park and especially the salt flats that are located within bad water basin
itself. In fact, according to the National Park Service, The salt flats in Bad water Basin cover
nearly 200 square miles, among the largest protected salt flats in the world. (National Park
Service, 2016) Unfortunately, salt flats are very harsh for animals to thrive because of the lack of
food and plants that they provide. The flats are made of delicate salt crystals that are very fragile
and can be crushed even if you step on them. Salt flats are formed through most importantly,
source of salts from a large drainage system, an enclosed basin like bad water which does not
drain to the sea because of how far below sea level it is, and an arid/dry climate where
precipitation levels are very low and evaporation takes place the most leaving fine salts and flats
like we see today.

Alluvial Fans within Death Valley National Park
Alluvial Fans are a very fascinating part of the geology of Death Valley National Park.
Alluvial fans are another piece of evidence of how much the climate of Death Valley has
changed. Like mountains and basins tectonic activity also affects the development of fans like
the one shown above. Since Death Valley is located in the basin and range system with constant
pulling apart of different landforms along faults, alluvial fans are a very popular attraction to
geologists and tourists visiting the park. Alluvial fans are older geological features of the park
that form a segment of a cone like structure that goes downslope a hill or valley where deposit

materials pile up at the bottom. Originally for an alluvial fan to occur, there had to be a stream
that once ran down the valley where the water completely dried up from such a changing
climate. According a scholarly scientific paper, Alluvial fans develop from constructional
process of sediments deposition that comes from the result of destructional process from adjacent
mountains. These constructional and destructional process complement each other in a way that
what would be the product of destructional process of one thing can become the source for a
constructional process of another. (Muhammad Shahir Muttaqin Mohd Fauzi, 2011) As you can
see, alluvial fans are an important part of such a geological rich park like Death Valley National

Another important geologic phenomenon of the park is the once known lakes that used to
be a big part of the landscape. The rocks located here at Death Valley indicate that a great source
of water was located here in the park at one time in its long history. One of the most important
ancient lakes was Lake Manly which was named after an explorer of the park William Manly in
1849. Due to climatic changes since the origins of the park nearly 3 million years ago, the lakes
have been said to have disappeared nearly 10,000 years ago after the last major ice age in North
America where the climate warmed much and the water completely evaporated. According to a
scientific article, In this study, we investigated shoreline deposits in Death Valley associated
with a high stand of Lake Manly (Fig. 1a), which was one of a series of lakes in the American
Southwest that alternately filled and desiccated during the Pleistocene and Holocene, and that
were sometimes connected.(Mitchell S. Craig, 2012) As you can see, after Lake Manly had
totally evaporated sediment deposits were left behind much like the salt flats talked about earlier.
Through Ground Penetrating Radar scientists were able to evaluate beach deposits at Beatty
Junction located in the northern part of the park. Through analyzing the sediments deposited after
these lakes evaporated and the climate changed they have been able to analyze the sediments to
find out the history behind the sediments that these lakes once contained.
Evidence for Climate Change in the Park Today
Another important aspect that we must take into account today is how climate change
today is affecting the landscape of the park. There are particular things that scientists are starting
to notice that are evidence for climate change today. At one particular spot located within the
park there has been a notice of no rock movement at Racetrack Playa which is a dry lake feature
with the stones that are shaped like racetracks. In as study done during the past seven years there
has been no major movement of rocks that have moved which is usually unusual. According to a
scholarly scientific article, The evidence that rocks on Racetrack Playa, a usually dry
lakebed in Death Valley National Park, occasionally do so and leave trails in the playa
mud is therefore remarkable and accounts in part for this striking location's appeal to
tourists and geologists alike. (Ralph D. Lorenz, 2013) The decline in movement of

these rocks can be said to be because of a decline in conditions for movement including
strong winds and and ice forming in surrounding areas within the park. This change in
climate is a good indicator that climate change is affecting the racetrack playa and its
normal rock movements.