US Geological Survey


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Published in JOURNAL OF SEDIMENTARY RESEARCH, VOL. 70, NO. 3, MAY, 2000, P. 749–761.


The Upper Permian (lower Ochoan) Castile Formation is a major evaporite sequence (~10,000 km3) of calcite, anhydrite, and halite in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Traditionally the Castile brine has been considered to have been derived from seawater. This tradition has recently been challenged by two versions of the closed-basin drawdown model. They call for deposition from a mixed brine, in part marine and in large part nonmarine. They propose drawdown of as much as 500 m to form a major sink for ground water issuing from the surrounding Capitan reef complex. A large fraction of the solute in the brine body is inferred to have been recycled from older Permian evaporites on the surrounding shelf.

Strontium-isotope analyses show no evidence that meteoric ground water was contributed to the Castile brine. From a stratigraphic, geographic, and lithologic array of 65 samples of anhydrite, gypsum, and calcite, 59 have an 87Sr/86Sr ratio of 0.706923 (Δsw of -225.0), a ratio that is the same as that of strontium in early Ochoan ocean water. If considerable (>15%) influx of meteoric water had occurred, enough continental strontium would have been introduced to have resulted in higher ratios.

Low bromide values (20–40 ppm) in Castile halite, which have been used to argue for meteoric influx and for recycled salt, probably resulted from diagenesis. During shallow burial by halite, centimeter-size, bottom-grown crystals of gypsum were altered to nodular anhydrite. The rising water of dehydration caused the halite to recrystallize. During the recrystallization, some bromide was expelled.

Despite the large volume of water that evaporated annually from its surface (~52 km3/yr, assuming an evaporation rate of 2 m/yr), the Castile brine body never completely desiccated. The surrounding shelf was flat, hot, and generally dry. It probably could not have supplied a significant volume of meteoric spring water to the basin over tens of thousands of years. More likely, during the entire history of the evaporite sequence, influx was dominantly marine. Marine ground water flowed through the Capitan Formation into the evaporite basin along its southern and possibly western margin probably with a rate of flow that was usually fast enough to prevent major drawdown of the brine surface.