Role of Ground Water in Geomorphology, Geology, and Paleoclimate of the Southern High Plains, USA



Study of ground water in the Southern High Plains is central to an understanding of the geomorphology, deposition of economic minerals, and climate change record in the area. Ground water has controlled the course of the Canadian and Pecos rivers that isolated the Southern High Plains from the Great Plains and has contributed significantly to the continuing retreat of the westward escarpment. Evaporative and dissolution processes are responsible for current plateau topography and the development of the signature 20,000 small playa basins and 40 to 50 large saline lake basins in the area. In conjunction with eolian processes, ground water transport controls the mineralogy of commercially valuable mineral deposits and sets up the distribution of fine efflorescent salts that adversely affect water quality. As the water table rises and retreats, lunette and tufa formation provides valuable paleoclimate data for the Southern High Plains. In all these cases, an understanding of ground water processes contributes valuable information to a broad range of geological topics, well beyond traditional interest in water supply and environmental issues.