Lacustrine carbonate tufa facies of Winnemucca Dry Lake basin, Nevada, U.S.A.

Laura M. Demott, Christopher A. Scholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Lacustrine carbonate tufa deposits are common in present-day lakes and dry pans of the western United States, and large-scale deposits (. 100 m high) are found throughout the subbasins of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan. This study presents a depositional model for very well exposed tufa in Winnemucca Dry Lake, a subbasin of Lake Lahontan, that incorporates new observations of tufa growth over length scales of 10–4–102 m. Tufa depositional facies are defined on the basis of outcrop morphology and texture. Deposits were mapped using satellite imagery and field observations. Tufa facies and volumes were quantified for seven tufa exposures across the basin using digital outcrop and elevation models from aerial images acquired from a small uncrewed aerial system (sUAS). Tufa thin sections were examined using transmitted-light petrography and scanning electron microscopy and combined with measurements of porosity and permeability to define small-scale facies characteristics. Both porosity and permeability are highly variable across textures; average values for both (/ ¼ 29%, k ¼ 5.5 D) indicate that all tufa types may exhibit excellent reservoir properties. The age and distribution of these facies across the basin are directly linked to hydroclimate and variations in lake level. The most important controls on tufa distribution at the basin scale are basin hydrology and pathways of groundwater inflow. Groundwater flow into the basin is largely concentrated along the western flexural margin along the contact between volcanic and volcaniclastic bedrock and alluvial sediments, rather than concentrated along the border fault margin, in contrast to other models which predict strong fault control of tufa occurrence. Microbially influenced tufa textures and morphologies are the most volumetrically significant tufas in the basin, composing between 77% and 100% of tufa volume at individual exposures; these are inferred to form during times when lake waters were warmer and levels higher, while physico-chemical processes dominate during early tufa formation, and generally in colder waters and under conditions of lower lake level. Deposition of tufas is a result of combined physical, chemical, and biological factors that are directly related to the basin geology and hydroclimate; however, the importance of each controlling factor is highly variable both spatially and temporally, complicating the development of effective and predictive depositional models. This case study describes tufa deposition intrinsically linked to basinal hydroclimatic histories, and understanding these relationships may assist in predicting volumes, physical properties, and stacking patterns of petroleum reservoir facies in lacustrine basins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1804-1824
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Sedimentary Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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