Overview of Ore Deposits and Active Geothermal Systems in the Sonoma and Clear Lake Volcanic Fields
1993. "Overview of Ore Deposits and Active Geothermal Systems in the Sonoma and Clear Lake Volcanic Fields", Active Geothermal Systems and Gold-Mercury Deposits in the Sonoma-Clear Lake Volcanic Fields, California, James J. Rytuba
Download citation file:
Manifestations of a major thermal anomaly in the Geysers-Clear Lake area of northern California include the late Pliocene to Holocene Clear Lake Volcanics, The Geysers geothermal field, abundant thermal springs, and epithermal mercury and gold mineralization. The epithermal mineralization and thermal springs typically occur along high-angle faults within the broad San Andreas transform fault system that forms the western boundary of the North American plate in this area. The young volcanic rocks overlie Mesozoic marine rocks of the Great Valley sequence which have been thrust above the coeval Franciscan Complex and penecontemporaneously dropped back down along low-angle detachment faults.
Many of the waters of the region are non-meteoric as defined by their isotopic signature. One type of isotppically shifted water emerges from or near Great Valley sequence rocks and is the most chloride rich. It is interpreted to be evolved connate in origin. A second type, evolved meteoric water has moderate chloride contents, high boron contents, and high B/Cl ratios and is found locally in Franciscan rocks, notably at the Sulphur Bank mercury mine where it probably results from near-closed-system, repeated boiling of meteoric water in host rocks that also contribute organic components to the water. At the Sulphur Bank mine fracturing of otherwise impermeable Franciscan rocks by faulting has created a localized zone of permeability in which thermal water boils repeatedly with limited venting to the surface. Boron-rich fluids were apparently present at depth in The Geysers when intrusion of silicic magma occurred because the concealed intrusion of felsite is surrounded by a halo of tourmaline-bearing hornfels. The volume of this poorly dated early to middle Quaternary intrusive body probably exceeds the 100 km3 of erupted Clear Lake Volcanics. Similar intrusions may have occurred in the eastern part of the area at Wilbur Springs and the McLaughlin mine, where gold deposition and evidence of hydrothermal phenomena suggest more magmatic activity than is indicated by small exposed bodies of early Quaternary basaltic lava. The Clear Lake Volcanics are the present locus of volcanism in the northern Coast Ranges and other volcanic centers are progressively older to the south. Geophysical data suggest that a large silicic magma body may be centered north of The Geysers steam field providing the heat for the geothermal field.
Geothermal power production has peaked at The Geysers and pressure declines indicate significant depletion of the fluid resource. The vapor-dominated field evolved from a pre-existing hydrothermal system within fractured, otherwise impermeable Franciscan metamorphic rocks. A deep water table of saline fluid has been postulated to be present under the steam field, but no chloride-rich water has been found at drillable depth. We propose that recently discovered, isotopically shifted steam in the northwest Geysers area indicates the presence not of deep connate water but rather of boiled-down, boron-rich Franciscan evolved meteoric water. This water is likely to be present in limited quantities and will not provide a significant hot water resource for geothermal power production at The Geysers or from the main Clear Lake volcanic field.
Figures & Tables
Active Geothermal Systems and Gold-Mercury Deposits in the Sonoma-Clear Lake Volcanic Fields, California
Since the discovery of gold and silver in the northern part of the Napa Valley in 1858, ore deposits and geothermal systems have drawn a variety of geologists to study one of the few areas in the United States where hot springs are actively depositing gold and mercury. The geothermal systems and very young precious-metal and mercury deposits occur in two adjacent volcanic fields, the older Sonoma volcanic field and the younger Clear Lake volcanic field. In the eastern foothills of the Napa Valley, precious metal deposits hosted by the Sonoma volcanic field produced only a small amount of gold and silver. The fertile soil and good drainage of the volcanic rocks in this area gave way to vineyards and wineries and the mines were closed and abandoned. The younger Clear Lake volcanic field has gone through several cycles of mineral and geothermal development The hot springs in the volcanic field were developed initially for their supposed medicinal benefits although many of the springs contained toxic levels of mercury. Mercury and sulfur were mined from several of the deposits present throughout the volcanic field and spectacular samples containing plumes of native gold within cobbles of cinnabar were discovered in the Sulphur Creek District. In spite of the known association of gold and mercury, mercury mining dominated the mineral development within the volcanic field until the mid-1940's. Development of The Geysers for geothermal power in 1960 began a new phase of economic development, and geothermal power production has continued to be important in the western part of the volcanic field. The most recent mineral development was the discovery of the McLaughlin gold deposit in 1978 at the site of the old Manhattan Mercury Mine. Since that time exploration has continued for auditional epithermal precious-metal deposits but without success.
This guidebook provides an overview of the geothermal systems and ore deposits in the Sonoma and Clear Lake volcanic fields. Several research papers in this guidebook provide important new concepts and data on the ore deposits, geothermal systems, and volcanic rocks within the two volcanic fields from the perspective of geologists, geochemists, geophysicists, and petrologists. In addition, a paper by Fraser Goff and Cathy Janik provides the ftrst comprehensive field guide to the geothermal features within the Clear Lake volcanic field. This field conference and guidebook should provide the basis for new research and a better understanding of the processes that have contributed to the formation of the ore deposits and geothermal systems in the Clear Lake and Sonoma volcanic fields.