Potash plays an important role in agricultural production. The Qaidam Basin (QB) in western China is a typical inland evaporite basin, which contains an abundance of K-rich brines, including shallow brines (i.e., surface brines and intercrystalline brines) in salt lakes and deep brines (i.e., pore brines and oilfield brines) in the strata. Significant studies on these brines have been reported; however, the integrated studies on sources of K, its distribution, and the sedimentary pattern of the two brine types are still inadequate. In this study, the K+
concentrations of sixty-four intercrystalline brines from the Qarhan Salt Lake (QSL), the largest playa in the QB, are presented. After combining those results with the major ionic compositions of river waters and deep K-rich brines, and the K+
concentrations of shallow brines in the QB, we concluded that: (1) The K of brines in the QSL is mainly from the high–flux K input by rivers which gain K from silicate weathering, while the “ancient Qaidam Lake” contributed little K to the QSL; (2) the large K flux supplied by rivers, the appropriate concentration degree, and the mixing of river waters and spring waters, cooperatively account for the highest K concentrations of brines in the QSL in the QB. The different river K recharges in different sections and isolated depressions are responsible for uneven K+
concentrations of brines in the QSL. (3) The deep brines are mainly distributed in the western QB. The K source of pore brines is from the interaction of pore water with the overlying evaporite layer. While the K in oilfield brines may be meteoric water, salt dissolution, the mixing of hydrothermal fluids, and the conversion of clay minerals to K-feldspar may consume K in the oilfield brines.
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