Portland State University. Department of Geology
Michael L. Cummings
Date of Publication
Master of Science (M.S.) in Geology
Geology -- Oregon -- Red Butte, Geochemistry -- Oregon -- Red Butte, Hydrothermal deposits -- Oregon -- Red Butte
1 online resource (144 p.)
Red Butte is located 60 km south of Vale, Oregon, about 20 km west of the Oregon/Idaho border. The butte is within the Owyhee Upland physiographic province of eastern Oregon which lies at the intersection of the Western Snake River Plain, the High Lava Plains, and the Northern Basin and Range provinces.
The butte is composed of Miocene to Pliocene lacustrine and fluvial volcaniclastic sediments. The topography of the butte is controlled by silicification of the sandstones and mudstones which cap it. Silicification and hydrothermal alteration are both structurally and stratigraphically controlled. North-trending normal faults dominate the area, and show progressively less offset in younger units. Strong northwest and minor northeast faults also cut the area.
Anomalous concentrations of Au, As, Sb, and Hg occur in banded quartz, quartz-adularia veins and rarely in calcite-quartz veins cutting basalts. The silicified mudstones at the butte top are generally barren. An hydrothermal explosion crater exposed on the southeast side of the butte lies at the intersection of north and northwest-trending faults. Banded quartz veins, quartz-adularia veins, and quartz-cemented breccias are exposed in the walls of the explosion crater. There is evidence of multiple brecciation events. A few mudstones exposed in the crater wall have an exhalative texture, contain pyrite des seminated along bedding, and contain trace amounts of Au.
The Red Butte system developed as a hot spring venting into a lake, possibly within a caldera. Periodic influxes of air fall tuffs and coarser clastic sediments diluted accumulating fine grained clastic and chemical sediments. As hot, silica saturated fluids rose into cooler lake waters they were cooled and diluted, resulting in silica flocculation near the vents and silicification of the lake sediments as they were deposited. Faults cutting the butte acted as conduits for the hydrothermal fluids. Overpressuring, caused by silica sealing of open fractures, resulted in explosions, generally followed by resealing of the system. Simultaneous faulting, sedimentation, and hot spring activity occurred at different rates throughout the life of the system.
Late in the life of the system, the local water table dropped, and the lake was replaced by a high-energy fluvial system. As the water table dropped below the surface, zones of low pH alteration and bleaching were developed above the hydrothermal vents, implying boiling at depth.
The large explosion crater and bedded explosion breccia on the southeast side of the butte were formed in these last stages of hydrothermal activity.
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Evans, Carol Susan, "The Geology, Geochemistry, and Alteration of Red Butte, Oregon: A Precious Metal-Bearing Paleo Hot Spring System" (1986). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3444.