Quaternary Evolution of Playa Lakes on the Southern High Plains- A Case Study from the Amarillo Area

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Playa lakes are abundant, small (generally <0.5 km in area) ephemeral lakes that occur in shallow (<11 m deep) depressions on the surface of the Southern High Plains. This study, based on analysis of excavations and 63 hollow-stem auger cores taken from 10 lakes in the study area around the Pantex Plant northeast of Amarillo, Texas, resolves long-standing controversies regarding origin, evolution, and recharge behavior of playa lakes. Origin of playa lakes has been debated for decades because the lakes are abundant but small, and the processes that form them are obscure. Although the ephemerally ponded playa lakes are floored by clay soils, ground-water and unsaturated-zone investigations show that playa lakes serve as sites of focused recharge. Description of a spectrum of playa basins of various sizes and recharge behaviors defines the similar characteristics and variable features in playa basins and documents the long-term maintenance of the seasonally ephemeral lakes and their responses to past climatic changes. These observations can be used to constrain assumptions that will be made about subsurface stratigraphy and recharge from the playas at the Pantex Plant.


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