Badwater Basin

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Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin from Dante's View Overlook.JPG
Location Death Valley
Inyo County, California
Coordinates 36°15′01″N 116°49′33″W / 36.250278°N 116.825833°W / 36.250278; -116.825833Coordinates: 36°15′01″N 116°49′33″W / 36.250278°N 116.825833°W / 36.250278; -116.825833
Type Endorheic basin
Primary inflows Amargosa River
Primary outflows Terminal (evaporation)
Basin countries United States of America
Max. length 12 km (7.5 mi)
Max. width 8 km (5.0 mi)
Surface elevation −282 feet (−86 m)[1]
Settlements Badwater, California
References U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, Inyo County, California, noted as the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the north west.[2]

The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of "bad water" next to the road in a sink; the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name. The pool does have animal and plant life, including pickleweed, aquatic insects, and the Badwater snail.

Adjacent to the pool, where water is not always present at the surface, repeated freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles gradually push the thin salt crust into hexagonal honeycomb shapes.

The pool is not the lowest point of the basin: the lowest point (which is only slightly lower) is several miles to the west and varies in position, depending on rainfall and evaporation patterns. The salt flats are hazardous to traverse (in many cases being only a thin white crust over mud), and so the sign marking the low point is at the pool instead. The basin was considered the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere until the discovery of Laguna del Carbón in Argentina at −344 ft (−105 m).[when?]


Badwater Basin elevation sign
View of the Basins's salt flats

At Badwater Basin, significant rainstorms flood the valley bottom periodically, covering the salt pan with a thin sheet of standing water. Newly formed lakes do not last long though, because the 1.9 in (48 mm) of average rainfall is overwhelmed by a 150 in (3,800 mm) annual evaporation rate. This is the greatest evaporation potential in the United States, meaning that a 12 ft (3.7 m) lake could dry up in a single year. When the basin is flooded, some of the salt is dissolved; it is redeposited as clean crystals when the water evaporates.[3]

A popular site for tourists is the sign marking "sea level" on the cliff above the Badwater Basin.[4][5]

Crust of hexagonal shapes


It is theorized that during the Holocene, when the regional climate was less dry, streams running from nearby mountains gradually filled Death Valley to a depth of almost 3 ft (1 m), and together with Cotton Bail Marsh and Middle Basin, made up the 80 mi (130 km) long, Lake Manly.[6] Some of the minerals left behind by earlier Death Valley lakes dissolved in the shallow water, creating a briny solution. The wet times did not last as the climate warmed and rainfall declined. The lake began to dry up and minerals dissolved in the lake became increasingly concentrated as water evaporated. Eventually, only a briny soup remained, forming salty pools on the lowest parts of Death Valley's floor. Salts (95% table salt – NaCl) began to crystallize, coating the surface with a thick crust from 3 to 60 in (8 to 152 cm).[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Elevations and Distances in the United States". USGS. Retrieved September 23, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Find Distance and Azimuths Between 2 Sets of Coordinates (Badwater 36-15-01-N, 116-49-33-W and Mount Whitney 36-34-43-N, 118-17-31-W)". Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved August 13, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b United States Geological Survey (January 13, 2004). "Badwater". Death Valley Geology Field Trip. US Department of the Interior. Archived from the original on December 24, 2007. Retrieved September 5, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Badwater, Death Valley National Park". The American Southwest. 2010. Retrieved November 15, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Badwater". Tripadvisor. 2010. Retrieved November 15, 2010. 
  6. ^ Philip Stoffer (January 14, 2004). "Changing Climates and Ancient Lakes". Desert Landforms and Surface Processes in the Mojave National Preserve and Vicinity. Open-File Report 2004-1007 (USGS, US Department of the Interior). Archived from the original on October 23, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

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