Distinguishing brackish lacustrine from brackish marine deposits in the stratigraphic record: A case study from the late Miocene and early Pliocene Bouse Formation, Arizona and California, USA

Jordon Bright, Andrew Cohen, Scott W. Starratt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

3 Scopus citations


Brackish marine and brackish continental environments are fundamentally different from a compositional perspective. Brackish water is often defined as having salinity lower than that of standard seawater but higher than that of freshwater, but less regard is given to the origin of the salts involved. The simple dilution of standard seawater by freshwater in a coastal or estuarine setting constitutes a brackish environment, but so do lakes where continental fresh water is impounded and becomes more saline through a variety of solute evolution pathways. The range of potential compositions of brackish lake water is diverse and includes water with “seawater-like” compositions. Isolated brackish lake environments located hundreds of kilometers inland can evolve towards sodium chloride-dominated, low alkalinity environments that mimic the composition of brackish seawater environments. These types of lakes can harbor a variety of continentally invasive but typically marine organisms, including but not limited to algae, foraminifers, mollusks, diatoms, and crustaceans. Distinguishing brackish marine from brackish lake environments in the geologic record can be difficult. In this paper, the enigmatic late Miocene and early Pliocene southern Bouse Formation of southern Arizona and California, USA, considered by many to represent a marine transgression along the lower Colorado River corridor, is discussed within a broad framework that incorporates hydrochemical, biogeographical, and species niche concepts. A brackish lake interpretation provides a powerful platform that can comprehensively account for the enigmatic mixed marine and continental fossil assemblage and possible tidal rhythmites that feature prominently in the southern Bouse Formation controversy. A review of the broader regional (paleo)environmental context for the southern Bouse supports a sodium chloride-dominated, low alkalinity, mildly brackish (10-5 ppt) Colorado River-fed lake depositional environment that was populated by an intriguing but predictable array of euryhaline, opportunistic, and continentally invasive marginal marine organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)974-1003
Number of pages30
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018



  • Bouse Formation
  • Brackish water fauna
  • Solute evolution
  • Streptochilus
  • Tidal rhythmite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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