Abstract

Playa-lake basins of the Southern High Plains, Texas and New Mexico, may originate wherever water periodically can collect in a surficial depression. They expand, however, by hydrologic and geomorphic processes including (1) dissolution of lithologic carbonates by infiltrating water; (2) transport downward of fine-grained clastic and organic material by the infiltrating ground water, leading to continuing processes of oxidation and carbonate dissolution in the subsurface; and (3) eolian removal of clastic material from the floor of playa lakes, which at some sites appears to have deepened playa depressions.

Evidence for largely hydrologic processes of playa-basin development on the Southern High Plains includes (1) a geographic occurrence restricted to relatively flat areas of the High Plains surface that have poorly developed fluvial drainage and which are underlain by generally unsaturated clastic and calcrete beds; (2) a tendency to occur where water collects and infiltrates, as along ephemeral streams and lineations suggestive of fracture systems; and (3) hydrologic, geochemical, petrographic, and bore-hole data, which suggest that recharge to the High Plains aquifer is principally from playa lakes, that various geochemical changes including carbonate dissolution and enhancement of secondary porosity occur as water moves downward through the unsaturated zone beneath playa lakes, and that calcrete beds often are missing or significantly dissolved beneath playa floors.

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