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The Soda Lakes are two lakes located northwest of Fallon, Nevada. They occupy two basaltic maar volcano craters which may have erupted in the last 1500 years. The larger lake, called Soda Lake or Big Soda Lake,[3] is somewhat elongated, stretching 2 kilometers (1.2 mi) in length. The smaller one, Little Soda Lake,[4] is 200 meters (660 ft) across.

Soda Lakes
Soda Lakes is located in Nevada
Soda Lakes
Soda Lakes
Location in Nevada
LocationChurchill County, Nevada, US
Coordinates39°31′48″N 118°52′12″W / 39.53000°N 118.87000°W / 39.53000; -118.87000Coordinates: 39°31′48″N 118°52′12″W / 39.53000°N 118.87000°W / 39.53000; -118.87000[1]
TypeMaars, volcanic explosion craters, meromictic lake
Max. depth207 feet (63 m)[2]
Last eruptionA.D. 512
Surface elevation1,251 m (4,104 ft)[1]


Volcanic originEdit

Maar volcanoes such as at Soda Lakes are formed by explosive eruptions when magma comes into contact with groundwater.

The Soda Lakes volcano is the only one in Nevada currently on the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. It was added to the Volcano Hazards Program list in 2018 with an initial assessment as a moderate threat potential. Though the exact age of the volcano is not known, it was inferred to have erupted in the Holocene epoch because it is younger than local 6000 year old Lake Lahontan sediments. That qualified it as having erupted recently enough for inclusion.[5]

It is monitored by the USGS California Volcano Observatory, which includes Nevada in its region.[6]

19th Century explorationEdit

West half of Soda Lake T.H. O'Sullivan in the late 1800s

A spring at Big Soda Lake provided the first drinkable water for 1800s wagon travelers on the Carson Trail at the end of the Forty Mile Desert, 2 miles before reaching the Carson River.[7]

The lakes are classified as soda lakes, hence the name.[8] In 1875, two commercial facilities were built for extraction of soda from the lake, for use by the Nevada mining industry.[9]

According to an early study of Soda Lakes, Russell (1885) describes the Soda Lake basin as follows:

The rim of the larger lake in its highest part rises 80 feet above the surrounding desert, and is 165 feet higher than the surface of the lake which it incloses. The outer slope of the cone is gentle and merges almost imperceptibly with the desert surface; but the inner slope is abrupt and at times approaches the perpendicular. A series of careful soundings gives 147 feet as the greatest depth of the lake. The total depth of the depression is therefore 312 feet, and its bottom is 232 feet lower than the general surface of the desert near at hand.[10]

Early 20th Century lake level increaseEdit

Following the construction of Lahontan Dam on the Carson River in 1911-1916, the groundwater table rose in the Lahontan Valley downstream of the reservoir. Additional water for irrigation was brought to Lahontan Reservoir from the Truckee River via a canal from Derby Dam. Rising groundwater increased the depth of Big Soda Lake by 60 feet (18 m) from 147 feet (45 m) to 207 feet (63 m), bringing the commercial soda operations to an abrupt end by submerging the machinery. The facility was eventually under a depth of 35 feet (11 m) of water when the lake level stabilized in 1930.[2][9][11]

Panorama of Big Soda Lake in 2018

Meromictic lakeEdit

Due to the rise in water level, Big Soda Lake became a meromictic lake. The denser lower layer is colder and more saline, and no longer mixes with the surface layer at any time of year. It is completely depleted of oxygen below the chemocline boundary.[2][12]

A 1978 paper on "Recent changes in the meromictic status of Big Soda Lake" reported the depth of the chemocline was first detected in 1933 as at 18 metres (59 ft). It had fallen to 37.5 metres (123 ft) at the time of the paper, leading to speculation that the lake would fully mix and cease to be meromictic within a few decades.[12] The chemocline was listed as at 35 metres (115 ft) depth in 1983 and 2015 papers, showing it had not continued to fall but remained stable around the level measured in the 1970s.[13][14]

Tufa formationsEdit

The lake level increase also started tufa formations to grow from interaction of incoming springs with lake minerals and bacteria. In less than a century the tufa became over 3 metres (9.8 ft) high. Due to fluctuations in the lake level, sometimes the tops of the tufa are out of the water. These tufa formations became subject of research interest because lake level increase constrains their age to a known and geologically short period of time.[15]


Nevada State Route 723 is a 2 mile long state highway on part of Soda Lake Road since 1978. Its southern terminus is at US Route 50, which passes about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of Little Soda Lake.[16]

Geothermal plantEdit

Exploration of the geothermal field in the Carson Desert near Soda Lakes began in the 1970s.[17] The Soda Lake I & II geothermal energy plants came online in 1987 and 1991 respectively, with continuing development by multiple owners.[18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Soda Lakes". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  2. ^ a b c d Rush, F Eugene (1972). "Hydrologic reconnaissance of Big and Little Soda Lakes, Churchill County, Nevada" (PDF). Nevada Division of Water Resources. USGS. Retrieved 2019-06-30.
  3. ^ "Soda Lake". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  4. ^ "Little Soda Lake". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  5. ^ "Soda Lakes". USGS California Volcano Observatory. Retrieved 2019-06-30.
  6. ^ "USGS: Volcano Hazards Program California Volcano Observatory". USGS California Volcano Observatory. Retrieved 2019-06-30.
  7. ^ "Carson Trail". Emigrant Trails West. Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  8. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1941). Origin of Place Names: Nevada (PDF). W.P.A. p. 13.
  9. ^ a b Moreno, Rich (2011-01-29). "Nevada Traveler: More to Soda Lake's story". Nevada Appeal. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  10. ^ Russell, I.C. 1885. Soda Lakes, near Ragtown, Nevada. In: Geological History of Lake Lahontan, a Quaternary lake of northwestern Nevada. United States Geological Survey, Monograph 11, pp. 73-80.
  11. ^ "Soda Lakes". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  12. ^ a b Kimmel, Bruce; Gersberg, Richard; Paulson, Larry; Axler, Richard; Goldman, Churles (1978). "Recent changes in the meromictic status of Big Soda Lake, Nevada". Limnology and Oceanography. doi:10.4319/lo.1978.23.5.1021. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  13. ^ Cloern, James E.; Cole, Brian E. & Oremland, Ronald S. (November 1983). "Autotrophic Processes in Meromictic Big Soda Lake, Nevada". Limnology and Oceanography. 28 (6): 1049–1061. doi:10.4319/lo.1983.28.6.1049. JSTOR 2836268.
  14. ^ Zimmerman, Susan H; Adams, Kenneth D; Rosen, Michael R (2015). "Trip 3.—Modern, Holocene, and Pleistocene Lake Locales in the Western Great Basin, Nevada and California, June 21–25, 2015". In Rosen, Michael R (ed.). Sixth International Limnogeology Congress — Field Trip Guidebook, Reno, Nevada, June 15–19, 2015. United States Geological Survey. pp. 65–67. Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  15. ^ Rosen, Michael R; Arehart, Greg B; Lico, Michael S (2004-05-01). "Exceptionally fast growth rate of <100-yr-old tufa, Big Soda Lake, Nevada: Implications for using tufa as a paleoclimate proxy". GeoScienceWorld. 32 (5): 409–412. doi:10.1130/G20386.1. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  16. ^ Nevada Department of Transportation (January 2019). "State Maintained Highways of Nevada: Descriptions and Maps". Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  17. ^ Sibbett, Bruce (December 1979). "GEOLOGY OF THE SODA LAKE GEOTHERMAL AREA" (PDF). Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology. UNIVERSITY OF UTAH RESEARCH INSTITUTE. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  18. ^ Benoit, Dick (2016). "Soda Lake Geothermal Field Case History 1972 to 2016" (PDF). GRC Transactions. 40. Geothermal Resources Council. pp. 523–534. Retrieved 2019-06-22.

External linksEdit