Saline conditions and associated high levels of selenium and other soluble trace elements in soil, shallow ground water, and agricultural drain water of the western San Joaquin Valley, California, have prompted a study of the texture of late Pleistocene-Holocene alluvium in the central part of the western valley. Texture is characterized by the percentage of coarse-grained sediment present within a specified subsurface depth interval and is used as a basis for mapping the upper 50 ft of deposits. Resulting quantitative descriptions of the deposits are used to interpret the late Quaternary history of the area.
Three hydrogeologic units — Coast Range alluvium, flood-basin deposits, and Sierran sand — can be recognized in the upper 50 ft of deposits in the central part of the western San Joaquin Valley. The upper 30 ft of Coast Range alluvium and the adjacent 5 to 35 ft of flood-basin deposits are predominantly fine grained. These fine-grained Coast Range deposits are underlain by coarse-grained channel deposits. The fine-grained flood-basin deposits are underlain by coarse-grained Sierran sand. The extent and orientation of channel deposits below 20 ft in the Coast Range alluvium indicate that streams draining the Coast Range may have been tributary to the axial stream that deposited the Sierran sand and that streamflow may have been to the southeast.
The fining-upward stratigraphic sequence in the upper 50 ft of deposits and the headward retreat of tributary stream channels from the valley trough with time support a recent hypothesis of climatic control of alluviation in the western San Joaquin Valley.