11 Nov 2011
Death Valley is a place of superlatives: it is not only the lowest point in North America (-86 m at Badwater), but it is also the driest and hottest place on this continent. Yet there is evidence that this area has experienced dramatic climate swings in the recent geological past. We found impressive occurrences of speleothems exposed along the flanks of Titus Canyon, one of the many canyons entering this depression. These deposits can be traced from the mouth ca. 1.3 km upstream. They are typically brown-stained, laminated flowstones that clearly predate the formation of the gorge. We obtained permission from the National Park Service to sample these deposits using low-impact drilling. We will study and try to date these speleothems which date back to a time when freshwater was abundant in the unsaturated zone quite unlike today. If successful, these chronological data will provide a minimum estimate of the age of Titus Canyon.