Field and numerical investigations of lava dome hydrothermal systems and their effects on dome stability
Ball, Jessica Lynne
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This study investigates the potential for hydrothermal alteration and circulation in lava domes using combined analytical, remote sensing and numerical modeling approaches. This has been accomplished in three parts: 1) A comprehensive field, geochemical and remote sensing investigation was undertaken of the hydrothermal system in the Santiaguito lava dome complex in Guatemala. The Santiaguito domes were found to contain mainly hydrous silica alteration, which is unlikely to weaken dome rock, but the summit of Santa Maria was found to contain pervasive argillic alteration (clay minerals), which do pose more of a collapse-related hazard. These results were confirmed by hot spring geochemistry which indicated that water in the domes was responsible for some rock dissolution but had a residence time too short to allow for secondary mineralization. 2) A finite element numerical modeling approach was developed which was designed to simulate the percolation of meteoric water in two dome geometries (crater-confined and 'perched'), and the results were compared to the surface expression of hydrothermal systems on existing lava domes. In both cases, we concluded that simulated domes which lacked a high-temperature (magmatic) heat source could not develop a convecting hydrothermal system and were dominated by gravitational water flow. In these low-temperature simulations, warm springs (warmer high fluid fluxes) were produced at the base of the dome talus and cool springs were dispersed lower down the slope/substrate; fumaroles (high vapor fluxes) were confined to the dome summits. Comparison with existing dome cross sections indicates that the simulations were accurate in predicting fumarole locations and somewhat accurate at predicting spring locations, suggesting that springs may be subject to permeability contrasts created by more complicated structural features than were simulated in this study. 3) The results of the numerical modeling were used to calculate alteration potential in the simulated domes, indicating the most likely areas where alteration processes might either reduce the strength of a dome or reduce permeability that could contribute to internal pressurization. Rock alteration potential in low-temperature lava domes was found to be controlled by material permeability and the presence or absence of a sustained heat source driving hydrothermal circulation. High RAI values were preserved longer in low-permeability domes, but were more strongly developed in domes with higher permeabilities. Potential for mineral dissolution was highest at the base of the dome core, while the potential for mineral precipitation is highest at the dome core-talus interface. If precipitated minerals are impermeable, the dome core/talus interface would be a likely location for accumulation of gases and initiation of gas-pressurization-related collapse; if alteration is depositing weak (i.e. clay) minerals in this area, the dome core/talus interface might be a candidate for collapses occurring as the result of alteration processes. The results of this study are all geared toward answering two broad questions: Where are hydrothermal alteration processes likely to occur or be focused within lava domes? and What effect could these processes have on dome stability? In the specific case of the Santiaguito dome complex, the combination of a quickly-recharged, low-temperature hydrothermal system in the inactive domes actually indicated a low possibility of collapse related to alteration minerals. This result was reinforced by the results of the numerical modeling, which indicated that domes are unlikely to develop sustained hydrothermal convection without the presence of a significant (magmatic) heat source and--in the case of Santiaguito--are likely to produce more hydrous silica alteration minerals when they also lack a source of acidic gases. Models of alteration potential do detail, however, that both shallow and deep dome collapses are still a possibility with a low-temperature hydrothermal system, given either a) a source of acidic gases to drive the formation of clay minerals (which are most likely to be deposited at the core/talus interface of a dome, or b) enough deposition of silica minerals in pore spaces to lower permeability in dome rock and promote internal gas pressurization. The results of this study are not limited to lava domes, as the volcanic edifices on which they rest are composed of the same materials that comprise lava domes and are therefore susceptible to the same hydrothermal processes. Further simulations of both lava domes and their associated edifices, including mineral species models, could help constrain under what conditions a lava dome or volcano is likely to develop areas of weak mineral precipitates (such as clay minerals) which could provide sites for collapse, or develop an impermeable cap of silicate minerals which could trap rising vapor and contribute to the pressurization of the edifice in question (which can in turn lead to collapse).