Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Hydrogeologic processes in saline systems: Playas, sabkhas, and saline lakes

January 1, 2002

Pans, playas, sabkhas, salinas, saline lakes, and salt flats are hydrologically similar, varying only in their boundary conditions. Thus, in evaluating geochemical processes in these systems, a generic water and solute mass-balance approach can be utilized. A conceptual model of a coastal sabkha near the Arabian Gulf is used as an example to illustrate the various water and solute fluxes. Analysis of this model suggests that upward flux of ground water from underlying formations could be a major source of solutes in the sabkha, but contribute only a small volume of the water. Local rainfall is the main source of water in the modeled sabkha system with a surprisingly large recharge-to-rainfall ratio of more than 50%. The contribution of seawater to the solute budget depends on the ratio of the width of the supratidal zone to the total width and is generally confined to a narrow zone near the shoreline of a typical coastal sabkha. Because of a short residence time of water, steady-state flow is expected within a short time (<100 years), while steady state for solutes may take much longer (>50,000 years). The solute composition of the brine in a closed saline system depends largely on the original composition of the input water. The high total ion content in the brine limits the efficiency of water-rock interaction and absorption. Because most natural systems are hydrologically open, the chemistry of the brines and the associated evaporite deposits may be significantly different than that predicted for hydrologically closed systems. Seasonal changes in temperature of the unsaturated zone cause precipitation of minerals in saline systems undergoing evaporation. Thus, during the hot dry season months, minerals exhibit retrograde solubility so that gypsum, anhydrite and calcite precipitate. Evaporation near the surface is also a major process that causes mineral precipitation in the upper portion of the unsaturated zone (e.g. halite and carnallite), provided that the relative humidity of the atmosphere is less than the activity of water. The slope of the fresh/brine-water interface in saline lake systems is shallower than in fresh/seawater interface because of the greater density difference between the fresh/brine-water bodies. The interface between sabkha brines and seawater slopes seaward, unlike normal marine-fresh water systems that slope landward. Moreover, the brine/seawater interface does not achieve steady state because it is pushed toward the sea by the sabkha's brine. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication Year 2002
Title Hydrogeologic processes in saline systems: Playas, sabkhas, and saline lakes
DOI 10.1016/S0012-8252(02)00067-3
Authors Y. Yechieli, W.W. Wood
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth-Science Reviews
Index ID 70024095
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse