Great Basin National Park
A mountain environment worth a
• E Nevada, Utah border
varied themes to learn & explore
OSU profs atop Mt
Wheeler, 13,063 ft,
• Arid land oasis:
– Mountain water “tower”
• Climate change: B Mark samples
spring at 9,774 ft.
– Vertical gradients
– Glacier response
– Paleoenvironmental reconstruction
• Human – environment interactions
– Ancient adaptation to modern conflict
D. Porinchu taking stock of
an alpine lake sediment core
• Verticality & biodiversity
• Ecotones: desert to glacier
Great Basin physiographic
• Thick crust
• Mantle plume,
• Normal fault,
• Cambrian sediments
• Orogeny &
metamorphism Rock glacier
• Granites, garnets
Stretched garnets in granite
Ripple marks on
• Oldest known tree species
• Currey Tree: 4844 yrs old
in 1965, when it was
chopped down by a
dynamics, climate response,
• Motion & structure
• Melt & stream
• Annual monitoring
Lehman rock glacier
photographed from Davis
peak; different oblique photos
comprise a 3D digital model
of surface topography
• Arid region; vertical
• After 5 years of
drought, west had
• Was the Younger
Tree fall caused by snow
snowpack was 300%
People, society, environment
dynamics over time
• 1000-1300 A.D.
• Petroglyphs, pottery,
• 2005 highest means
• 2005 max peak flow
Watershed: Key Issues
• Population growth
• Water storage and delivery
• Water diversion
“Southern Nevada is rich, running out of
water, and not about to go away…”
Western Water Wars
“Whisky’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’."
• Greater Las Vegas now has a population of 1.7 million, with about
80,000 new residents added annually. It far outstrips any other U.S.
city in employment growth, generating 76,000 new jobs last year
• Vegas gets 90 percent of its water from the Colorado and its
tributaries and 10 percent from groundwater.
• Las Vegas' share of lower basin Colorado River water amounts to
about 300, 000 acre-feet a year. That's it. NOT sustainable.
• An acre-foot is 1 acre of surface area covered by a foot of water, or
about 326,000 gallons. A single acre-foot will provide water for two
households per year.
• Las Vegas plans for diversion of Snake Range water; $2 billion
pipeline is cheap
• Tapping aquifer’s obviously concerns ranchers in NV and UT
Johnson Lake Mining:
in-park case study
• 1860’s gold rush
• 1900 tungsten
• Boom & bust: WWI demand;
• Environmental impact?
Great Basin Mine Watch
• Nevada is the world’s 3rd largest gold producer after S. Africa
and Australia and in 2004, produced nearly 7 million ounces of
gold worth more than $2.8 billion.
Environmental impact &
City of Ruth with mountain of
mine tailings from the BHP
Robinson copper mine behind it.
Photo credit: GBMW
• Ely and Ruth residents sought legal action against BHP Billiton
after discovering that their groundwater was contaminated with
high levels of nitrate.
• The most likely sources for the nitrate contamination were the
city of Ruth's sewage disposal ponds, which the mining company
had built, or the mine's leaking tailing heaps since the heap water
had extremely high nitrate readings.
• Nevada Division of Environmental Protection had conducted
tests at residential wells, and knew they contained high levels of
nitrate that posed a significant health threat. Yet NDEP did not
inform residents. Locals discovered what was making them ill
after hiring a private lab to test their water. The mining company
recently settled the lawsuit with the residents.
Mercury-emitting gold roaster at
Newmont’s Gold Quarry Mine.
Photo credit: Earthworks
• With gold often comes mercury, which is naturally occurring in
ore harvested from many Nevada mines.
• Mercury is released into the air during roasting or other
refining processes used to extract gold.
• Mercury levels have been unregulated from open pit mining
until 1990’s. First year of measurements was 1998. Levels are
• EPA’s 2002 Toxic Release Inventory ranked Nevada as the
highest emitter of mercury in the West other than Texas –
primarily due to gold industry emissions
Other hazards &
Waste rock collapse at the Gold
Quarry mine, which buried a
state highway beneath 50 feet of
rock and stopped just short of
Maggie Creek. | Photo
Source: Debra Reid/LightHawk
• In February, one of Newmont's 10-million ton waste rock dumps
collapsed and slid across Nevada Highway 766.
• A slide of this proportion-covering the highway for the length of more
than 4 football fields and up to 50 feet high-is the worst slope failure on
record in the West, and represents a major failure on the part of the
company to protect its workforce and the public from hazard.
• Denver-based Newmont, the world's largest gold mining company, has
quite a reputation around the globe. Locals are resisting operations for
public health horrors in Indonesia, Ghana, Turkey, and Peru.
• It's not the first time Nevada's mining regulatory system has been
compared with those of third-world nations.
Come and see!!
Second OSU visit: 3-10 August 2006
Future field course?
If you have interest, or see research
potential, keep in touch!