Geothermal Systems Ancient and Modern a Geochemical Review

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Journal Article: Geothermal Systems Ancient and Modern a Geochemical Review

Geothermal systems occur in a range of crustal settings. The emphasis of this review is on those occurring in regions of active or recently active volcanism, where magmatic heat at depths up to 8 km leads to convection of groundwater in the upper crust. Hot water (and steam) flows are controlled by the permeability of the crust and recent data have emphasised the dominance of secondary permeability, especially fractures. Drilling to depths of up to 3 km in these systems encounters near-neutral pH alkali chloride waters with temperatures up to about 350°C and chloride contents generally in the range 500 to 15,000 mg kg_1 although much higher salinities are encountered in some systems such as in the Imperial Valley, California. Stable isotope studies indicate the predominance of a meteoric source in the majority of geothermal systems although seawater predominates in some regions, such as Reykjanes, Iceland. Mixing of waters from both sources also occurs in some systems and some magmatic fluid may also be present.The major element geochemistry of geothermal fluids is determined by a set of temperature-dependent mineral-fluid equilibria although chloride and rare gas contents appear to be independent variables reflecting the sources of these components (sedimentary or volcanic rocks, seawater, magmatic fluids, etc).Boiling in the upper portion of geothermal systems is accompanied by the transfer of acidic gases (CO2 and H2S) to the resultant steam which may penetrate the surface as fumarolic activity or become condensed into shallow groundwaters giving rise, with oxidation, to distinctive low pH sulphate bicarbonate water.Fluid inclusion, stable isotope and mineral alteration studies have led to the recognition in many Tertiary hydrothermal ore deposits of physical and chemical environments analogous to those encountered in the present-day systems. The vein-type gold-silver, Carlin-type gold and porphyry-type copper-molybdenum deposits of the western United States are particularly well studied examples. Sub-ocean floor equivalents of the terrestrial geothermal systems have been recognized in ocean floor spreading centres such as the East Pacific Rise and deep-sea submersible vehicles have allowed visual observation of sea floor hot springs actively depositing metal sulphides. These environments may parallel those of the Cyprus-type massive sulphide depositing systems, while sub-sea floor systems of the type responsible for Kuroko-type massive sulphide deposits may eventually be encountered in island are settings.

R.W. Henley and A.J. Ellis

Published Journal 
Earth-Science Reviews, 1983

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R.W. Henley,A.J. Ellis. 1983. Geothermal Systems Ancient and Modern a Geochemical Review. Earth-Science Reviews. 19(1):1-50.