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Abstract

The Moscow-Pullman basin, located on the eastern margin of the Columbia River flood basalt province, consists of a subsurface mosaic of interlayered Miocene sediments and lava flows of the Imnaha, Grande Ronde, Wanapum, and Saddle Mountains Basalts of the Columbia River Basalt Group. This sequence is ~1800 ft (550 m) thick in the east around Moscow, Idaho, and exceeds 2300 ft (700 m) in the west at Pullman, Washington. Most flows entered from the west into a topographic low, partially surrounded by steep mountainous terrain. These flows caused a rapid rise in base level and deposition of immature sediments. This field guide focuses on the upper Grande Ronde Basalt, Wanapum Basalt, and sediments of the Latah Formation.

Late Grande Ronde flows terminated midway into the basin to begin the formation of a topographic high that now separates a thick sediment wedge of the Vantage Member to the east of the high from a thin layer to the west. Disrupted by lava flows, streams were pushed from a west-flowing direction to a north-northwest orientation and drained the basin through a gap between steptoes toward Palouse, Washington. Emplacement of the Roza flow of the Wanapum Basalt against the western side of the topographic high was instrumental in this process, plugging west-flowing drainages and increasing deposition of Vantage sediments east of the high. The overlying basalt of Lolo covered both the Roza flow and Vantage sediments, blocking all drainages, and was in turn covered by sediments interlayered with local Saddle Mountains Basalt flows. Reestablishment of west-flowing drainages has been slow.

The uppermost Grande Ronde, the Vantage, and the Wanapum contain what is known as the upper aquifer. The water supply is controlled, in part, by thickness, composition, and distribution of the Vantage sediments. A buried channel of the Vantage likely connects the upper aquifer to Palouse, Washington, outside the basin. This field guide locates outcrops; relates them to stratigraphic well data; outlines paleogeographic basin evolution from late Grande Ronde to the present time; and notes structures, basin margin differences, and features that influence upper aquifer water supply.

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