OUR MISSION is to provide university level field research programs to study the ‘cause & effect’ of the Whitewater River meeting the San Andreas Fault ‘HEAD ON’ and the resultant unique biodiversity surrounding the North American and Pacific tectonic plates and the settlement of Native Americans to this site more than 11,000 years ago (in Whitewater Canyon, USA)


With kind permission from the National Research Council of the National Academy of SciencesWith special thanks to Keegan Sawyer, DirectorBACKGROUND

In 1980, The United States government designated Whitewater Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), in recognition of its important scientific, biological, geological, and Cultural Resources – with a river running through it in the Southern California Desert!

Whitewater Canyon’s ACEC is unique because the San Andreas Fault slices across the ancient river and the tectonic plates create an underground dam in the Earth’s crust between 10 & 60 miles deep. The Whitewater River has traveled 70 miles from the peaks of the highest mountain in southern California, Mt. San Gorgonio, 11,500ft, thus, at the point where the Whitewater River meets the San Andreas Fault at Bonnie Bell (2 miles north of the Interstate 10, the river cannot freely flow past the tectonic plates and backs up as a massive underground lake.

This unique phenomenon has created a natural wild life sanctuary with hundreds of old growth Cottonwood trees, a rich riparian habitat unlike anywhere in the California Desert, affording an abundance of year round food, water, shelter and protection. The canyon has remained virtually unchanged for millions of years since the Mammoth/Mastodon and Saber Tooth Tiger once roamed freely; and more recently, Early Man, dating back to the last ice age, more than 11,000 years as recorded in the Federal Register – classified as the Early Hunting Stage…

Whitewater Canyon is also unique in that it is a transitional eco zone where three habitats converge – Mojave, Sonoran and Coastal. In effect, this means, particularly the old Indian village, Wanapiapa/Bonnie Bell, and her rich riparian habitat, is home to more endangered, threatened, and sensitive species of flora and fauna than any other site known in Southern California…

The proposed programs and activities will be primarily field studies focusing on the biodiversity and geology surrounding the San Andreas Fault and the Whitewater River. The field/scientific studies will also encompass the study of birds, mammals, fish, insects, reptiles, amphibians and vegetation within adjacent areas to the tectonic plates – North American & Pacific

Each field study will be conducted and led by experts within each scientific discipline.

Students will study:

  1. Fault vegetation, groundwater interactions, and above mentioned wildlife.
  2. Fractures and vein fillings in metamorphic rocks on the main fault to determine stresses during their formation.
  3. Minerals in hydrothermally altered rocks.
  4. Fault movement both horizontal and vertical within the transitional zone.
  5. Spectrum of rock types exposed, from sedimentary rocks to metamorphic and hydrothermally altered rocks.
  6. Stream processes and debris flows to determine a record of big storm events.
  7. Detailed mapping of sedimentary deposits on the eastern wall of the canyon to resolve the change in fault movement from horizontal to vertical displacement in White Water Canyon.
  8. Vegetation change on the canyon floor along with groundwater flow disruption and the juxtaposition of completely different rock types along a laterally traceable boundary coincident with the vegetation zone.