Quantifying the role of hydrothermal alteration in creating geothermal and epithermal mineral resources: The Ohakuri ignimbrite (Taupō Volcanic Zone, New Zealand)

Michael J. Heap, Darren M. Gravley, Ben M. Kennedy, H. Albert Gilg, Elisabeth Bertolett, Shaun L.L. Barker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations

Abstract

Hydrothermal fluids can alter the chemical and physical properties of the materials through which they pass and can therefore modify the efficiency of fluid circulation. The role of hydrothermal alteration in the development of geothermal and epithermal mineral resources, systems that require the efficient hydrothermal circulation provided by fracture networks, is investigated here from a petrophysical standpoint using samples collected from a well exposed and variably altered palaeo-hydrothermal system hosted in the Ohakuri ignimbrite deposit in the Taupō Volcanic Zone (New Zealand). Our new laboratory data show that, although quartz and adularia precipitation reduces matrix porosity and permeability, it increases the uniaxial compressive strength, Young's modulus, and propensity for brittle behaviour. The fractures formed in highly altered rocks containing quartz and adularia are also more planar than those formed in their less altered counterparts. All of these factors combine to enhance the likelihood that a silicified rock-mass will host permeability-enhancing fractures. Indeed, the highly altered silicified rocks of the Ohakuri ignimbrite deposit are much more fractured than less altered outcrops. By contrast, smectite alteration at the margins of the hydrothermal system does not significantly increase strength or Young's modulus, or significantly decrease permeability, and creates a relatively unfractured rock-mass. Using our new laboratory data, we provide permeability modelling that shows that the equivalent permeability of a silicified rock-mass will be higher than that of a less altered rock-mass or a rock-mass characterised by smectite alteration, the latter of which provides a low-permeability cap required for an economically viable hydrothermal resource. Our new data show, using a petrophysical approach, how hydrothermal alteration can produce rock-masses that are both suitable for geothermal energy exploitation (high-permeability reservoir and low-permeability cap) and more likely to host high-grade epithermal mineral veins, such as gold and silver (localised fluid flow).

Original languageEnglish
Article number106703
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Volume390
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Epithermal
  • Geothermal
  • Hydrothermal alteration
  • Permeability
  • Porosity
  • Uniaxial compressive strength

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