Karst Aquifers: Pacific Northwest Pseudokarst Aquifers

Science Center Objects

Pseudokarst features such as lava tubes, fissures, open sinkholes, and caves, are extensive in some regions of the west. Some of the largest regions with this type of pseudokarst are located in the Pacific Northwest, including the Snake River area of Idaho, part of the Columbia Basalt Plateau in Washington and Oregon, and in the lava fields of northeastern California. 

Pseudokarst features in late Cenozoic basalt lava fields are extensive in some regions of the west. The largest regions with this type of pseudokarst are in the Snake River area of Idaho, in part of the Columbia Basalt Plateau in Washington and Oregon, and in the lava fields of northeastern California. The pseudokarst features include lava tubes, fissures, open sinkholes, and caves formed by extrusion of the still-liquid portion of the lava. Subsurface solution of the bedrock and subsequent collapse are not involved in the formation of these features. Lava tubes, in the form of tunnels, are up to 20 feet (6 meters) in diameter, and some extend for several miles. Fissures are common but seldom extend for more than 1,000 ft (300 m). The fissures and lava tubes, in contrast to solution features, are not in geometrical sets but are generally parallel and extend in the direction of the flow of the lava. Fissures and lava tubes are generally near-surface features, but some are as much as 250 ft (75 m) deep. "Sinkholes" in lava generally lack the symmetry of those developed in solution terrain. The lava sinks are commonly less than 100 ft (30 m) wide, but a few large sinks, notably in the Snake River area of Idaho, are as much as 1 mi (1.6 km) or more wide. Most of the lava sinks are irregular in shape and generally are shallow features (less than 30 ft (10 m) deep), although some are 150 ft (45 m) or more deep. Many of the sinks have near-vertical sides or overhangs. (From U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2004-1352)