First Advisor

Michael L. Cummings

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geology: Geohydrology






Geothermal resources -- Oregon -- Alvord Basin, Hot springs -- Oregon -- Alvord Basin, Geochemistry -- Oregon -- Alvord Basin



Physical Description

1 online resource, digitized computer-produced typeface. 5, xiii, 177 leaves (8 folded) : illustrations, maps (some color) ; Includes bibliographical references.


The Alvord Valley Known Geothermal Resources Area (KGRA) , located east of the Steens Mountain-Pueblo Mountains fault block in southeastern Oregon, is within the northern Basin and Range province. This investigation focuses on three thermal areas in the Alvord Basin: Borax Lake and the hot springs north of Borax Lake, Alvord Hot Springs and Mickey Springs.

Mickey Springs and the springs north of Borax Lake are boiling at the surface (94 and 95° C, respectively). Inflow temperatures to Borax Lake, measured at a depth of 30 m, are greater than 100° C. Surface temperatures for Alvord Hot Springs and a flowing well northeast of Borax Lake are 78 and 59° C, respectively.

Thermal fluids issue from Quaternary lacustrine and alluvial deposits. While silica sinter deposits are present at all three thermal areas, sinter is not presently being deposited. Minor calcite is being deposited at the springs north of Borax Lake. The springs discharge from N to NEstriking, high-angle, basin-bounding faults along the base of Steens Mountain and Mickey Mountain and NE-striking intrabasinal faults south of Alvord Lake.

The thermal waters are dilute sodium-bicarbonate waters with significant amounts of sulfate and chloride. Conservative element plots (B, F, and Li vs. Cl) indicate good correlation between Cl and the other conservative elements. These correlations could result from mixing of thermal water with a dilute cold water or fluid evolution due to increased fluid-rock interaction, evaporation, and steam loss due to boiling. The small variations in chloride concentrations of thermal fluids during the sampling period argues against mixing of thermal fluids with cold water. The geothermal system is a hot-water rather than a vapordominated system.

The ỎD content of thermal fluids is similar to the ỎD content of local cold water wells, springs, basinal pore fluids at a depth of 4 to 5 m, and perennial streams. Similarities in ỎD values indicate recharge for geothermal fluids is precipitation from the Steens Mountain fault block. The Ỏ18 content of thermal fluids is shifted 2 to 3°/oo to the right of the world meteoric water line indicating fluid-rock interaction at elevated temperatures in the reservoir.

Tritium contents indicate relatively long residence times and/or low-velocity circulation of meteoric water through basement rocks. Values range from 0 to 0.25 T.U. The application of two end-member models, which calculate fluid residence times, generate a minimum of 57 years and a maximum of greater than 10,000 years.

Estimated reservoir temperatures based on cation and silica geothermometry are between 170 and 200°C. Oxygensulfate isotope geothermometer estimates indicate reservoir temperatures between 198 and 207' C for Borax Lake and Alvord Hot Springs. Mickey Springs and a flowing well northeast of Borax Lake yield temperature estimates of 168 and 150° C, respectively. These values indicate partial reequilibration of the isotopic system.

The Ỏ13C contents of carbon dioxide and methane of gas discharges from the thermal areas are similar to geothermal fluids from other sites. The Ỏ13C of methane indicate "normal" geothermal methane for Alvord Hot Springs and Mickey Springs (-27.8 and -27.6, respectively). The Ỏ13C of CH4 for springs north of Borax Lake (-33.6) indicates a small amount of thermogenic methane may be contributed by thermal alteration of organics in basinal sediments. The Ỏ13C contents for C02 at Alvord Hot Springs and Borax Lake are within the range expected for atmospheric, fumarolic, or mantle derived C02 (-6.5 and -6.6, respectively). The Ỏ13C content of C02 from Mickey Springs is isotopically lighter than gas released from fumaroles or the mantle (-9.4). N2/Ar ratios for Mickey Springs and Borax Lake gases (39.2 and 40.8, respectively) indicate interaction with airsaturated ground water during flow through the the zone of aeration. Helium is enriched relative to Ar and N2 in gas discharges from Alvord Hot Springs, indicating longer fluid residence times and/or increased crustal interaction at high temperatures.

Ratios of B/Cl indicate the fluid reservoir is hosted in volcanic rocks. The Li/Cs ratios for the Borax Lake thermal area are consistent with a reservoir located in rhyoli tic rocks. The 228Ra/226Ra content of Borax Lake thermal fluids (1.14 ± 0.13 dpm/kg) indicates interaction with volcanic rocks for Borax Lake. The 228Ra/226Ra content of thermal fluids from Alvord Hot Springs and Mickey Springs (0.38~0.02 and 0.17 ~ 0.09) are lower than those expected for volcanic rocks and may indicate local uranium accumulation in the reservoir or zones of upflow. The 87Sr / 86Sr values for thermal waters and stratigraphic uni ts indicate the fluid reservoir is located in volcanic rocks beneath Steens Basalt. Equilibration of fluids in these units argues for thermal water circulation depths of 2 to 2.5 km in the Borax Lake thermal area, greater than 3 km in the Alvord Hot Springs area and 1 to 2 km in the Mickey Springs area.

Data presented in this study do not preclude a single large deep reservoir system discharging at these three thermal areas in the Alvord basin. Differences in the chemical and isotopic composition of discharge from the three thermal areas are produced during upf low from the reservoir. During upflow, thermal waters follow a complex pathway of vertical and lateral fractures which includes short residence times in shallow reservoirs before reaching the surface. Boiling, mixing with condensate, oxidation, mixing with 1-3% tritium-bearing, near-surface cold water, relative differences in flow rate and volume, and slow cooling without vigorous boiling are processes that modify fluid composition during upflow from the deep geothermal reservoir.


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