First Advisor

Michael L. Cummings

Date of Publication

Summer 12-15-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geology






Geomorphology -- Oregon -- Alvord Desert, Formations (Geology) -- Oregon -- Alvord Desert, Hot springs -- Oregon -- Alvord Desert



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 87 pages)


Mickey Springs in the Alvord Desert, southeast Oregon, is analogous to other Basin and Range hydrothermal systems where the requisite conditions of heat source and permeable pathways are met through crustal thinning due to normal faulting. This study examines the morphology and lifespan of near-surface spring features through use of ground penetrating radar, thermoluminescence (TL) dating, and elevation modeling. Duration of hydrothermal activity at Mickey Springs has not previously been determined, and age determinations of sinter at the site are conflicting. The reason for and timing of this change in silica saturation in the hydrothermal fluid has not been resolved.

Three morphologies of silica sinter deposition have been identified at Mickey Springs. These are (1) well-sorted, fine-grained sandstone with ripple marks, cross beds and preserved root casts, to poorly-sorted conglomerate of primarily basalt clasts, both cemented by coeval silica deposition, (2) large depressions (12-32 m diameter) rimmed with sinter, characterized by fine silt and clay blanketing a sinter apron and infilling the central depression, and (3) quaquaversal sinter mounds identified by outcropping pool-edge sinter typically surrounding a shallow depression of loose sediment.

Silica-cemented sandstone and conglomerate were the first features formed by coeval hydrothermal processes at the site, and were emplaced prior to 30 kya as suggested by structural and stratigraphic relationships. Structure between two interacting fault tips may have constrained the extent of silica cementation. By 30 kya, a left-stepping fault oriented roughly north/south further constrained the near-surface permeable zone. TL dates from sediment stratigraphically below and above sinter aprons around mounds and depressions (former spring vents) indicate sinter deposition between 30 and 20 kya. Location of these features was dictated by development of the left-stepping fault. As pluvial Lake Alvord filled at the end of the Pleistocene, lake sediment filled most vents, which were largely inactive, with fine-grained silt and clay.

Today, hydrothermal activity persists in two modes: (1) The current high-temperature springs, steam vents and mudpots concentrated in a 50 x 50 m area south of the sinter mounds and depressions, and (2) scattered springs and steam vents that exploit previous permeable pathways that once provided the hydrothermal fluid which precipitated the sinter aprons. Currently there is no active silica sinter deposition at Mickey Springs.

Structures and stratigraphic relationships identified through this study favor a transport-limited and structurally controlled model of fluid transport. Sinter deposition is determined to have occurred before the most recent highstand of pluvial Lake Alvord. A climate driven model, where groundwater recharge from pluvial Lake Alvord circulates to a deep heat source and enhances spring discharge, is not supported by these findings, as no evidence was found for sinter precipitation after the drying of the lake. Future studies of other hydrothermal systems in the Basin and Range may reveal that permeable pathways along local structures are the primary drivers in this region.


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