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Abstract

Epithermal precious-metal and mercury deposits are present in the Sonoma and Clear Lake volcanic fields of central California and several hot springs in the Clear Lake volcanic field are presently depositing mercury and gold. The deposits and hot springs are associated with late Miocene to Holocene volcanic centers developed above a zone of thin crust and hot asthenosphere termed a slab window (Dickinson and Snyder, 1979, Benz and others, 1992) as the end of Pacific plate subduction was marked by the passage of the Mendocino triple junction along the California coast. Mercury deposition is actively occurring at the Sulphur Bank mercury mine, but no precious metals are present there because the geothermal system is vapor-dominated. In the water dominated geothermal systems at Wilbur Springs (Peters, 1990, Donnelly and others, 1993) and springs near the Cherry Hill gold deposit, both cinnabar and gold are being deposited (Pearcy and Petersen, 1990). Transport of mercury and gold is in a fluid which also contains high concentrations of petroleum and associated methane and CO2 derived from thermal degradation of organic matter in sedimentary rocks (Peabody, 1989). Chemical and isotopic analysis of oxygen and deuterium of the hot springs indicate that three types of fluid are present: moderate chloride, isotopically heavy, evolved formation fluid equilibrated with oceanic sedimentary rocks; evolved meteoric water; and isotopically light meteoric water (Peters, 1990,1991, Sherlock and Jowett, 1992, and Donnelly-Nolan and others, 1993). High concentrations of Hg, As, Sb, Au, and Ag occur in precipitates from hot springs composed dominantly of the isotopically heavy fluid, but not in the moderate-temperature, oxidized springs that are mixtures of these two fluid types (Peters, 1990, Donnelly-Nolan and others, 1993).

The McLaughlin gold deposit (initial reserves of 2.9 million oz of gold) is economically the most important deposit in the Clear Lake and Sonoma volcanic fields. This precious metal-mercury hydrothermal system developed within and adjacent to andesitic vents and dikes emplaced along the Stony Creek fault zone (Lehrman, 1986). Gold occurs in opal, chalcedony, and quartz veins, and the highest gold values typically occur in amber to brown opal containing petroleum. Gold occurs in several sites within the petroleum-bearing opal: as a filling of 2050 micron- diameter oval voids representing large fluid inclusions; as 2-4 micron size crystals that coalesce to form dendrites of gold along primary vein banding; and in syneresis cracks which cut the vein banding. Oxide phases of Ga, In, Sn, and Ni are present within the petroleum-bearing opal. The isotopically heavy McLaughlin ore fluid plots in the field of andesitic magma volatiles (Hedenquist and Aoki, 1990, Giggenbach, 1987) and evolved formation waters (Sherlock and Jowett, 1992) suggesting that these two components are present Andesitic vents and dikes at the McLaughlin gold deposit suggest that a larger intrusion underlies the area and provided the heat source for the hydrothermal system. Andesitic vents along the Stony Creek fault provided a conduit for volatiles degassing from the intrusion to become entrained within the hydrothermal fluid composed of gas-oil-field water derived from the Great Valley sequence. The McLaughlin gold deposit reflects the complex interaction of three types of fluid each transporting a different elemental suite: evolved gas-oil field formation water transporting petroleum, Ga, In, Sn, Ni, and Hg; andesitic magmatic fluid transporting Au, Ag, Hg, Sb, and As; and near-surface meteoric water.

Prospective areas for precious metal hot-spring deposits occur in the volcanic-structural environment above the thin crust and hot asthenosphere within the slab window in the Coast Ranges and parts of the Great Valley sequence where blind thrusts and associated faults are intruded by Pliocene to Holocene intrusive rocks. Mercury deposits with little or no gold content form along major structures from gas-oil field fluids with little or no magmatic component in the fluid and contain petroleum, Ni, Ga, In, Sn, and other transition elements. Epithermal gold deposits contain a significant magmatic component characterized by Au, Ag, As, Sb, and Hg as well as a gas-oil- field fluid component characterized by petroleum and transition metals. Both deposit types may occur along the same structures.

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