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Hydrogeologic investigations of the Miocene Nogales Formation in the Nogales Area, Upper Santa Cruz Basin, Arizona

July 28, 2016

Hydrogeologic investigations were conducted to evaluate the groundwater resource potential for the Miocene Nogales Formation in the Nogales area, southern Arizona. Results indicate that parts of the formation may provide new, deeper sources of groundwater for the area. Geologic mapping determined the hydrogeologic framework of the formation by defining lithologic, mineralogic, and stratigraphic characteristics; identifying potential aquifers and confining units; and mapping faults and fractures which likely influence groundwater flow. Geophysical modeling was used to determine the basin geometry and thickness of the Nogales Formation and younger alluvial aquifers and to identify target areas (deep subbasins) which may prove to be productive aquifers.

Volcaniclastic sandstone samples from the formation were analyzed for porosity, bulk density, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and fabric. Effective porosity ranges from 16 to 42 percent, bulk density from 1.6 to 2.47 grams per cubic centimeter, and saturated hydraulic conductivity (SHC) from 4 to 57 centimeters per day (4.9×10-5 to 6.7×10-4 centimeters per second). Thin sections show that sandstone framework grains consist of quartz, feldspar, biotite, hornblende, pumice, volcanic glass, and opaque minerals. The matrix in most samples consists of pumice fragments, and some contain predominantly silt and clay. Samples with a mostly silt and clay matrix have lower porosity and SHC compared to samples with mostly pumice, which have higher and wider ranges of porosity and SHC. Pore space in the Nogales Formation sediments includes moldic, intercrystalline, and fracture porosity. Some intercrystalline pore space is partially filled with calcite cement. About one third of the samples contain fractures, which correspond to fractures noted in outcrops in all members of the formation.

Scanning electron microscope (SEM) and x-ray diffraction (XRD) analyses indicate that most of the samples contained the zeolite clinoptilolite and mixed-layer clay. X-ray diffraction analyses verified clinoptilolite as the only zeolite in Nogales Formation samples; they also verified the presence of smectite and illite clay and some kaolinite. Samples which contain greater amounts of clinoptilolite and lesser amounts of smectite have high porosity and SHC in narrow ranges. However, samples with abundant smectite and lesser amounts of clinoptilolite span the entire ranges of porosity and SHC for the formation.

All members of the Nogales Formation are fractured and faulted as a result of Tertiary Basin and Range extensional deformation, which was broadly contemporaneous with deposition of the formation. These structures may have significant influence on groundwater flow in the upper Santa Cruz basin because, although many of the sediments in the formation have characteristics indicating they may be productive aquifers based only on porous-media flow, fracturing in these sediments may further enhance permeability and groundwater flow in these basin-fill aquifers by orders of magnitude.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Hydrogeologic investigations of the Miocene Nogales Formation in the Nogales Area, Upper Santa Cruz Basin, Arizona
DOI 10.3133/sir20165087
Authors William R. Page, Floyd Gray, Mark W. Bultman, Christopher M. Menges
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5087
Index ID sir20165087
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center