Great Basin


Great Basin
a region in the Western U.S. that has no drainage to the ocean: includes most of Nevada and parts of Utah, California, Oregon, and Idaho. 210,000 sq. mi. (544,000 sq. km).

* * *

also called  Great Basin Desert 

distinctive natural feature of western North America that is equally divided into rugged, north-south–trending mountain blocks and broad intervening valleys. It covers an arid expanse of about 190,000 square miles (492,000 square km) and is bordered by the Sierra Nevada range on the west, the Wasatch (Wasatch Range) Mountains on the east, the Columbia Plateau on the north, and the Mojave Desert on the south. With the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Mojave deserts, the Great Basin forms one of four divisions of the North American Desert. Most of the U.S. state of Nevada, the western half of Utah, and portions of other nearby states lie within its boundaries. The Great Basin is the largest subdivision—consisting of the northern half—of the Basin and Range Province, a physiographic feature extending southward to include southern Arizona, southeastern and central New Mexico, the western tip of Texas, and northwestern Mexico.

      The mountain ranges of the Great Basin have been likened, in an old survey report, to a group of caterpillars, all crawling irregularly northward. The ranges are from 60 to 120 miles (95 to 190 km) long and 3 to 15 miles (5 to 24 km) wide. The valleys are usually somewhat wider than the ranges and are mostly deserts, with floors 1,000 to 6,000 feet (300 to 1,800 m) above sea level. The ranges have peaks commonly reaching 9,000 feet (2,750 m) or more above sea level, and where this occurs they catch a moderate amount of precipitation and support conifer stands. The western face of the Sierra Nevada otherwise blocks rain-bearing winds off the Pacific Ocean from reaching the Great Basin, forming a rain shadow over the entire region. The annual rainfall of 6 to 12 inches (150 to 300 mm) in the basin supports little more than a sparse desert or semidesert vegetation.

      The Great Basin is particularly noted for its internal drainage (drainage basin) system, in which precipitation falling on the surface leads eventually to closed valleys and does not reach the sea. The Humboldt River of northern Nevada, for example, rises in ranges in the northeast of the state, drains a number of small valleys on its way westward, and ends in a closed basin called Humboldt Sink. The Great Salt Lake lies in the final and lowest catchment basin of western Utah and gathers much of the drainage of the region that has not evaporated or seeped underground en route.

      The arid Great Basin for a long time thwarted westward cross-country travel to California and hence impeded significantly the development of the western United States. Jedediah Smith (Smith, Jedediah) (1798–1831), a great explorer of the West, made the first journey across the basin in 1824 but did not document his travels. He was followed by John C. Frémont (Frémont, John C), who surveyed an eastern swath of the Great Basin in 1846 but did not cross it. The California gold rush brought thousands westward in 1848 and 1849, many of them reaching Salt Lake City and then attempting alternate routes across the Great Basin. A survey made in 1867–78 produced the first federally sponsored scientific account of the climate, travel conditions, and resources of the Utah-Nevada region.

      The ranges and valleys of the Great Basin may be characterized as huge blocks of the Earth's crust that have been uplifted, sunk, and tilted. Enormous cracks, or faults (fault), bound the blocks, and the uplifted parts have been eroded over geologic time, with the debris accumulating over the depressed parts. There are about 30 major fault-bounded blocks, generally 15–30 miles (24–48 km) across, between the Wasatch Range and the Sierra Nevada.

      In many places volcanic rocks that formed about 30,000,000 years ago have been cut and displaced by the block faults. Furthermore, many of the faults exhibit fresh surfaces, indicating recent movement; there are historical records of earthquakes and constant contemporary micro-earthquakes, indicating that faulting has continued to the present day.

      Minerals have proved to be the greatest resource of the Great Basin. Much of the nation's gold, magnesite, barite, and mercury are produced in Nevada, which is also among the leading producers of lithium, silver, diatomite, and gemstones. Utah is the leading producer of beryllium ore and is among the leading producers of gold, silver, copper, iron ore, and molybdenum.

      Most of the population in Utah is located along the western base of the Wasatch Range focusing on Salt Lake City, with sustaining water supplies coming from streams in the mountains and also from wells tapping the great underground water reservoir trapped beneath the adjacent valley. Similarly, on the other side of the Great Basin, a good part of the population of western Nevada, centring on Reno, is found along the east front of the Sierra Nevada, which supplies most of the water for that area.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Great Basin —   [ greɪt beɪsn], Großlandschaft im Westen der USA, Großes Becken …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Great Basin — vast inland region of the W U.S., between the Sierra Nevada & the Wasatch Mountains: the rivers & streams flowing into this region form lakes which have no outlet to the sea: c. 200,000 sq mi (517,998 sq km) …   English World dictionary

  • Great Basin — The Great Basin is a large, arid region of the western United States. Its boundaries depend on how it is defined. Its most common definition is the contiguous watershed, roughly between the Wasatch Mountains, in Utah and the Sierra Nevada, that… …   Wikipedia

  • Great Basin — Nordamerikanische Wasserscheiden (Großes Becken orange markiert) verschiedene Definitionen des Großen Beckens Das Große Becken (engl. Great Basin) ist eine trocke …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Great Basin — Grand Bassin (Amérique) Désert du Grand Bassin Le Grand Bassin (Great Basin en anglais) est un désert. C est une région de montagnes, de bassins sédimentaires et de hauts plateaux de l ouest des États Unis. La région offre une grande variété de… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Great Basin — Great′ Ba′sin n. geg a region in the western U.S. that has no drainage to the ocean: includes most of Nevada and parts of Utah, California, Oregon, Wyoming, and Idaho. 210,000 sq. mi. (544,000 sq. km) …   From formal English to slang

  • Great Basin — geographical name region W United States between Sierra Nevada & Wasatch Range including most of Nevada & parts of California, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, & Oregon & having no drainage to ocean; contains many isolated mountain ranges (the Basin Ranges) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Great Basin — noun A large arid area of western United States of America …   Wiktionary

  • Great Basin — Nevada national park …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Great Basin — /greɪt ˈbeɪsən/ (say grayt baysuhn) noun a region in the western US, without drainage to the sea, including most of Nevada and parts of Utah, California, Oregon, and Idaho. About 2012 km long …   Australian English dictionary


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.