Earth’s Lowest Elevations (Courtesy of the National Park Service)
- Dead Sea (Jordan/Israel) -1360 feet (-414 m)
- Lake Assal (Djibouti, Africa) -509 feet (-155 m)
- Turpan Pendi (China) -505 feet (-154 m)
- Qattara Depression (Egypt) -435 feet (-133 m)
- Vpadina Kaundy (Kazakstan) -433 ft (-132 m)
- Denakil (Ethiopia) -410 ft (-125 m)
- Laguna del Carbón (Argentina) -344 ft (-105 m)
- Death Valley (United States) -282 ft (-86 m)
- Vpadina Akchanaya (Turkmenistan) -266 ft (-81 m)
- Salton Sea (California) -227 ft (-69 m)
- Sebkhet Tah (Morroco) -180 ft (-55 m)
- Sabkhat Ghuzayyil (Libya) -154 ft (-47 m)
- Lago Enriquillo (Dominican Republic) -151 ft (-46 m)
- Salinas Chicas (Argentina) -131 ft (-40 m)
- Caspian Sea (Central Asia) -92 ft (-28 m)
- Lake Eyre (Australia) -49 ft (-15 m)
|I had this awesome idea! I bet no one has ever thought to take their picture here before!|
If erosion wasn't a thing that happened, Death Valley would be even deeper. The sand and gravel that fills the Death Valley graben extends to a depth of about 9,000 feet, meaning if the gravel weren't there, the total relief would be 4 miles!
|Fault scarps interrupt the smooth surface of this alluvial fan just south of Badwater.|
Did we mention that Death Valley is also the driest place in North America? Average rainfall here is less than two inches a year. The Sierra Nevada and the other mountains of the Basin and Range province are very effective rain shadows (orographic barriers). Badwater lies at the edge of the Death Valley salt pan, a 200 square mile flat surface covered by salt and other evaporite minerals. It is hard to imagine a place more inhospitable to life on the planet. There are a few salt tolerant plants that grow on the edges of the pan, but I've heard of nothing that lives in the interior areas (except maybe some microbes here and there?).
We talked about the geology and got back into the vans and headed north, up the valley towards Furnace Creek.
As we drove towards camp, we had a look at the edge of the vast turtleback fault surface at Badwater that forms the Proterozoic core of the Black Mountains (in the picture above). The long smooth slope in the shadow on the right is just about all fault surface. The sunlit rocks in the center and on the left have slid off the fault to the north. They are composed of Miocene volcanic rocks of the Artist's Drive Formation.
The sunlight was a pleasant surprise. For much of the day the skies had been overcast, but in the latest part of the afternoon, the clouds parted for a moment and the rocks glowed orange and gold. The sediments and flows of the Artist's Drive formation are colored by oxidation of various metals in the volcanic ash and tuff layers, and are striking in almost any conditions, but they are especially bright at sunset.
The sun disappeared into the clouds again and the harsh edges of the valley blurred as the evening arrived. We headed back to our camp at Stovepipe Wells.