Skip to Main Content
Skip Nav Destination

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.

You do not have access to this content, please speak to your institutional administrator if you feel you should have access.
Close Modal

or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal