The origin and significance of groundwater-seepage gypsum from Bristol Dry Lake, California, USA



    1. Department of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, 78713–7909, USA
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      Division of Water Resources, CSIRO, Private Bag, P0 Wembley, WA 6014, Australia.


    1. National Centre for Petroleum Geology and Geophysics, GPO Box 498, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
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Gypsum and anhydrite fabrics observed in trenches and deep (500 m) cores from Bristol Dry Lake, California, USA, exhibit a vertical alignment of crystals similar to the fabric seen in bottom-nucleated brine pond gypsum. However, geochemical and sedimentological evidence indicate that the gypsum formed in Bristol Dry Lake precipitated displacively within the sediment where groundwater saturated with respect to gypsum recharges around the playa margin (groundwater-seepage gypsum). Evidence for displacive growth of gypsum is: (i) the geometry of the deposit, (ii) stable isotopic data and the water chemistry of the brine, and (iii) inclusions of matrix which follow twin planes and completely surround crystals as they grow.

The bulk of the gypsum precipitated in the playa occurs around the edges of the playa in the playamargin facies and completely rings the lake. Sulphate concentrations in the groundwater increase toward the gypsum zone in the playa margin. Basinward of this zone, sulphate concentrations decrease sharply to trace element levels in the basin centre brine. Authigenic gypsum is rare in the centre of the playa. Stable (δ18O values measured for gypsum waters of crystallization (GWC) are similar to the values calculated for groundwater in the playa margin and alluvial fan sediments (˜– 6%0), whereas measured brine δ18O values range from + 0·5 to + 3·7%0. Deuterium values measured for groundwater are ˜– 70%0, GWC are ˜– 60 to – 65%0 and brine values are ˜– 57%0. The geometry of the deposit and the chemical data suggest that the water precipitating the gypsum is more closely associated with the groundwater than the brine. However, some mixing between groundwater and brine is likely.

Within 100 m of the surface, the gypsum dehydrates to anhydrite, although the same vertically aligned fabric is retained through the diagenetic process. The similarity of displacive vertically aligned gypsum and anhydrite fabrics seen in Bristol Dry Lake to subaqueously deposited gypsum in modern brine ponds indicates that the criteria used to define subaqueous fabrics must be better constrained.