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Seeing the True Shape of Earths
Surface: Applications of Airborne
and Terrestrial Lidar in the Geosciences themed issue

LiDAR and hyperspectral analysis of mineral alteration and


faulting on the west side of the Humboldt Range, Nevada
Eli Silver1, Robert MacKnight2, Erin Male1, William Pickles1,*, Peter Cocks3, and Al Waibel4
1

Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, California 95064, USA
PFC Energy, 13 Farrell Street, Newburyport, Massachusetts 01950, USA
3
HyVista Corporation, Unit 11, 10 Gladstone Road, Castle Hill, NSW 2154, Australia
4
Columbia Geosciences, 22495 NW Quatama Road, Hillsboro, Oregon 97124-6648, USA
2

ABSTRACT
In order to evaluate the setting of the
HumboldtRye Patch geothermal field, we
carried out a program of hyperspectral and
light detection and ranging (LiDAR) imaging of the Humboldt River basin to test
(1) whether fault patterns, surface mineral
alteration, and mud volcanoes in the HumboldtRye Patch district offer the potential
for additional geothermal exploration sites;
(2) whether mud diapirism in this region
could be caused by seismic shaking; and
(3) whether significant improvements in
exploration can be made using these remotesensing tools in addition to the more traditional techniques. In the southern (Rye
Patch) region, a set of faults cuts the surface
of the alluvial fans, and several faults cut
shorelines of Lake Lahontan. These shorelines lie at an elevation of 1290 m, which
corresponds with the elevation of the Lake
12,500 500 yr ago. We find no signs of surface mineral alteration in the Rye Patch area
in spite of the existence of these faults and
known alteration at depth. Farther north,
in the Humboldt House region, we find
abundant evidence of alteration products,
including siliceous sinter, carbonate, montmorillonite, hematite, and jarosite. This
alteration is widespread, and corresponds
to young faulting in only one location. The
LiDAR data show at least two mud volcanoes and a large field of low-carbonate
mounds. Some of these (apparently) diapiric features may have been associated with
seismicity, and both active and paleoseismic
events would have been sufficiently close and
energetic to have initiated liquefaction in this
region. Such liquefaction events would have
been more likely, however, during the high
*Deceased.

stands of Lake Lahontan, when the ground


would have been saturated, consistent with
reported ages on rocks correlated with the
carbonate mounds. We propose further geothermal exploration based on these results.
INTRODUCTION
Geothermal energy represents one of a number
of clean energy sources, and development of
such resources has taken on increased urgency
as the effects of rapidly rising atmospheric
greenhouse gas concentrations appear to be
accelerating global warming (Solomon et al.,
2007). Geothermal systems are associated with
areas of magmatic activity, deep and permeable
fault zones, vapor-dominated fields, geopressured fields, and areas of hot, dry rocks (Gupta
and Roy, 2007). In addition to such high-grade
geothermal resources, the recent Massachusetts
Institute of Technology study on the future of
geothermal energy suggested that enhanced
geothermal resources (conduction-dominated
systems) could grow to 100 GW by the year
2050 (Tester et al., 2006). Part of the growth
of the total United States geothermal resource
base would likely focus on Nevada, where
high geothermal gradients dominate the Basin
and Range province (Blackwell and Richards,
2004), and many young range-front faults
provide potential access to deeply circulating,
high-temperature fluids that could be mined for
geothermal energy.
The first step in exploration for geothermal
resources should be remote sensing. Remote
sensing offers the capability of evaluating large
areas in order to identify particular locations for
more detailed study, including ground-based
field work, geophysics, and drilling. Use of
hyperspectral remote sensing has been shown
to be very effective in locating surface outflow
of hot fluids by mapping mineral alteration patterns. Examples of such studies in the Great

Basin include Long Valley (Martini et al., 2003),


Steamboat Springs (Vaughan et al., 2003, 2005),
Dixie Meadows (Kennedy-Bowdoin et al.,
2004), Humboldt Valley (MacKnight, 2005),
Dixie Valley (Nash et al., 2004), BradyDesert
Peak (Kratt et al., 2006), Pyramid Lake (Faulds
et al., 2003; Kratt et al., 2010), and Fish Lake
Valley (Littlefield and Calvin, 2010).
Here we focus on a study of the Humboldt
Rye Patch geothermal district (Fig. 1), which
has an existing but not producing power plant.
We propose to test (1) whether fault patterns,
surface mineral alteration, and mud volcanoes
in the HumboldtRye Patch district offer the
potential for additional geothermal exploration sites; (2) whether mud diapirism in this
region could be caused by seismic shaking; and
(3) whether significant improvements in exploration can be made using these remote-sensing
tools in addition to the more traditional techniques. We approach these tests by integrating hyperspectral observations with detailed
LiDAR topographic data to gain a much clearer
view of the faults, fault timing, mineral alteration, and fluid venting in the HumboldtRye
Patch district of the Humboldt basin. We utilize
HyMAP hyperspectral imagery (MacKnight,
2005) with more recently acquired Optech
LiDAR. We begin with an overview of the
background information on the HumboldtRye
Patch district and then discuss evidence for
faults and timing, followed by evidence for fluid
venting and mineral alteration. We speculate on
a possible origin of the vent features, related to
seismic shaking.
BACKGROUND
The Great Basin represents a zone of anomalously high heat flow (Blackwell and Richards,
2004), as a result of widespread middle Tertiary
and younger volcanism and extensional faulting
(Sonder and Jones, 1999 and references therein)

Geosphere; December 2011; v. 7; no. 6; p. 13571368; doi:10.1130/GES00673.1; 16 figures.

For permission to copy, contact editing@geosociety.org


2011 Geological Society of America

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Silver et al.

119W

117W

41N

Winnemucca
BM

Fig 2 HR
HH

RP

ix

ie

Va
lle
y

Fallon
Nevada

39N
Figure 1. Surface projection of digital elevation model (DEM) of central Pershing County,
Nevada, showing the location of the Humboldt House (HH)Rye Patch (RP) geothermal area
and its relationship to the Humboldt Range (HR) and the Dixie Valley and Battle Mountain (BM) geothermal districts. DEM downloaded from Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
website 30 m data. Location of Figure 2 shown in box. Note that all maps are oriented N-S.

and anomalously thin crust (Stauber and Boore,


1978; Priestly et al., 1982; Louie et al., 2004;
Heimgartner et al., 2006). Coolbaugh et al.
(2005a) pointed out that many geothermal
systems in the Great Basin are associated with
gold deposits younger than 7 Ma. They are
also commonly associated with NE-trending
belts of extension undergoing NW widening.
Coolbaugh et al. (2005b) mapped the distributions of geothermal potential of the Great Basin,
showing the locations of power plants, faults,
and measured ground and subsurface temperatures of the region. Nevadas power plants and
geothermal areas appear to lie on NE-trending
zones (Faulds et al., 2005), and most are broadly
encompassed by Walker Lane and the Humboldt shear zone.
Gritto et al. (2003) carried out a surface-toborehole seismic experiment in the area of the
Rye Patch geothermal field. They found a significant velocity increase at the base of the sec-

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tion of Tertiary sediments and volcanic rocks


making up this part of the Humboldt River
basin. The velocity transition corresponds to
the depth where Tertiary materials are in contact with Triassic carbonate rocks with much
higher seismic velocities, and in the area of the
geothermal field, the carbonates lie at a depth
of ~700 m beneath the surface. At a depth of
880 m beneath the surface is a thin (60 m) clastic unit that acts as the reservoir for the geothermal field. Wells completed in this aquifer
record temperatures of ~200 C. The seismic
tomography of Gritto et al. (2003) indicated
subsurface topography in the geothermal
region, with a broad west-trending ridge in
the shallow subsurface, possibly bounded on
one or both sides by faults. The interpretation
of east or ENE-striking faults is supported by
results of a 3D seismic experiment that covers
the Rye Patch geothermal anomaly (Feighner
et al., 1999). The fault or faults are inferred to

Geosphere, December 2011

cut through the Triassic carbonates and clastic


reservoir and continue into the overlying Tertiary sedimentary and volcanic rocks.
A detailed map of the region just west of
the Humboldt Range by Davis (1983) delineated faults and linear shoreline features and
deposits of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan. Davis
also mapped a group of travertine armored
spring mounds west of the Florida Canyon
mine (Fig. 2) as part of the Wyemaha Formation, which he reported as intruding lacustrine
and deltaic deposits of the Eetza Formation
and underlying alluvial, deltaic, lacustrine, and
shoreline deposits of the Sehoo Formation.
Davis (1983) also reported three 14C ages on
bone apatite and one tephra age, all taken from
the Wyemaha Formation. These ages ranged
between 23,000 and 30,000 yr. DePolo (2008)
compiled a map of Quaternary faults in Nevada,
and that map shows a set of faults along the west
side of the Humboldt Range, considered to be
younger than 15,000 yr. DePolos map indicates
faulting along the west base of the range and a
set of NE-striking faults just to the west.
The northern part of the Humboldt Range
consists largely of Triassic metasedimentary
rocks, including limestones and dolomites of the
Prida and Natchez Pass formations, and argillite and quartzite of the Grass Valley Formation.
Triassic rhyolite is common within these units.
An outcrop of Quaternary basalt occurs near the
range front (Johnson, 1977).
The Humboldt House geothermal reservoir
is one of two geothermal reservoirs located in
the HumboldtRye Patch geothermal district.
Exploration and development of geothermal
prospects in this area began in the late 1970s
by the Phillips Petroleum Company; currently
Presco Energy LLC owns the geothermal leases
in this area. Initial recognition of a possible
geothermal reservoir at the Humboldt House
came from the presence of surface siliceous
sinter (opal and chalcedony), which may imply
the presence of hot spring deposits, and from
measurement of elevated temperatures in this
region (Waibel et al., 2003). The Rye Patch
geothermal area is sited close to one of the
NE-striking faults, the Rye Patch fault. Phillips Petroleum found temperatures of 163 C
in a test well in 1977, and later wells found
values up to 243 C (http://www.nbmg.unr.edu
/Geothermal/index.html). A power plant was
constructed on this site but has not produced
electricity. The Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy (University of Nevada, Reno),
Presco Energy, and Apollo Gold drilled a set
of wells in the Rye Patch and Florida Canyon
mine areas (labeled D in Figs. 3 and 4), and
this exploration discovered higher temperatures
in the latter region than at similar depths near

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Humboldt LiDAR

2 Km
Nevada

the power plant (Johnson, 2005). Waibel et al.


(2003) also reported temperatures of 350 C to
400 C at depths of 650 m.
METHODS

Fig 9

Fig 4 Florida Canyon


Mine

Rye Patch
Reservoir
Standard
Mine

Fig 3

Figure 2. HyMap image mosaic of the HumboldtRye Patch area using bands at 2.2 m,
0.75 m, and 0.55 m as RGB. Greens indicate presence of vegetation; white is evaporates
and surface alteration minerals; dark blue is water (Rye Patch reservoir); reds indicate
soils enriched in iron-bearing minerals. Florida Canyon mine stands out to the NE of center.
Highway 80 runs north to northeast through the central and upper right part of image. Inset
shows location, as does Figure 1. Boxes show locations of Figures 3, 4, and 9.

We used the HyMap airborne hyperspectral


imager for this study that is flown in light, twinengine aircraft at altitudes of 20005000 m
above ground level (AGL). The HyMap sensor
has 126 contiguous spectral bands spanning
the visible and near infrared to the shortwave infrared (VNIR-SWIR, 0.462.5 m)
with an average bandwidth and spectral sampling interval of 15 nm. The pixel size varies
between 3 and 5 m depending on flight and
target elevation. The spectral and spatial resolution of HyMap allows for accurate mineral
identification and mapping at scales appropriate for geothermal exploration. HyMap has
been used previously to map alteration minerals associated with fluid flow along fault
zones in tectonically active areas in the United
States (Crowley and Zimbleman, 1997; Kruse,
2000, 2011; Martini, 2002; Martini et al, 2003;
Kennedy-Bowdoin et al, 2003).
The HyMap data were acquired on June 1
and 2, 2003, over the HumboldtRye Patch
field area (Fig. 2). The acquisition consisted of
19 north-south flight lines, which covered an
area of ~500 km2 and spanned the latitudes of
4040 to 4028N and longitudes of 11808 to
11828W. HyVista Corporation did the atmospheric correction of the raw spectral data. We

2 Kilometers

Rye Patch PP

Fig. 6

lt

u
Fa
ch
t
a
eP
Ry
4030

Fig. 5

D
D
T
D D D

SM

Humboldt
Mtn Fault

in
eF
au
lt

Fig. 7

St
an
da
rd
M

Figure 3. Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) image of southern part of the
LiDAR survey, showing a set of faults cutting the alluvial surface and base of mountain range. Left: shaded-relief image, with
locations of Figures 5, 6, and 7 outlined.
Right: labeled faults, and location of Rye
Patch reservoir is shown with short arrow.
T is location of trench across Humboldt
Mountain fault of Wesnousky et al. (2005).
Dashed arrow shows direction of global
positioning system vector for site TUNG,
relative to stable North America, located just
south of this figure (Niemi et al., 2004). D is
location of geothermal well; SM is Standard
Mine.

11815W

Geosphere, December 2011

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Silver et al.
11816

11814

4038

N
Fig. 8

Shorelines
Humboldt
House

HMF

Fig. 9

4036

FCM

Fig.
16

4034

Figure 4. Shaded-relief image of the Humboldt House geothermal area and the Florida Canyon mine (FCM).
Left: unlabeled shaded-relief image. Right, labeled: showing the Humboldt Mountain fault (HMF) and small
fault cutting alluvium. Location of Figures 8, 9, and 16 outlined, and Humboldt House is located. D is location of
geothermal well. Lake Lahontan shorelines are evident in the images.

processed the atmospherically corrected data


using the ITT commercial software package
ENVI. This software allows the user to discriminate and map the distribution of mineralogy within spectral images using a variety of
different algorithms and is designed to focus
spectrally on the most pure end members for
identification and mapping.
On September 23, 2004, we collected 800 km
of Optech ALTM 3100 LiDAR data, flown by
Sky Research, Inc., from Ashland, Oregon.
The LiDAR was flown on a Cessna Caravan
aircraft. The plane flew at 1000 m AGL taking 100,000 measurements per second. Scan
overlap was 30% with a frequency of 60.1 Hz.
Spot spacing was 45 cm; vertical and horizontal
accuracies were 15 cm and 50 cm, respectively.
Data preprocessing filtered noise and assigned
geographic coordinates to each point, based on
differential global positioning system (DGPS)
base station data and an inertial measurement
unit to determine aircraft attitude. A triangular
irregular network (TIN) was generated based
on initial evaluation of the data, and extraneous points were visually removed. A final bareearth model stripped most of the vegetation,
and digital elevation models (DEMs) were created from this TIN.

1360

We made three field excursions to the HumboldtRye Patch field area to obtain field spectra as a ground truth for the mineral mapping,
to field check the fault maps, and to obtain
geologic field observations. We checked mineral maps generated using an advanced spectral
device (ASD) Field Spec Pro and a GPS unit
for location. The ASD Field Spec Pro is a handheld spectrometer with 2150 bands spanning a
spectral range of 0.35 to 2.5 m. The instrument
was calibrated before each use and after approximately three to five spectral collections. Calibration from radiance to reflectance was done using
the reflectance from a diffusely reflecting white
plate and a dark current correction. Variation in
light reflecting from the white plate is assumed
to be from atmospheric influence and is therefore
subtracted from the data. Dark current correction
works similarly but subtracts any interference in
the signal from the instrument, such as changes
in the temperature of the instrument. Field spectra were collected using an 8 lens at a distance
of 0.31 m. We created a spectral library using
the ENVI software package, and then identified each spectrum by comparison with the U.S.
Geological Survey laboratory spectra. The resultant mineral identifications were used to assess
the accuracy of the mineral maps.

Geosphere, December 2011

RESULTS
Fault Systems
The west side of the Humboldt range is
marked by a set of faults, considered by dePolo
(2008) to be younger than 15,000 yr (Figs. 3 and
4). The locations of faults that we have mapped
with LiDAR are very similar to the locations of
Davis (1983) and dePolo (2008). What we can
add using LiDAR is the relationship between
these faults and the Lake Lahontan shorelines.
The base of the mountains shows a sharp break,
indicating range-front faulting (Figs. 3 and 4).
This fault, named the Humboldt Mountain fault,
can be followed essentially continuously northward through the Florida Canyon mine and to
the north of the mine. A very prominent fault
cuts irregularly across the alluvial plain between
the mountains and the reservoir, which we name
the Standard mine fault, because the fault is on
line with that mine (Fig. 3). The fault is mapped
in three segments, and its outcrop pattern is that
of a normal fault dipping to the NW. Northwest
of the Standard mine fault is the Rye Patch
fault (Fig. 3), which we map in three segments.
The northernmost segment is irregular, with
sharp escarpments separating highly dissected

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Humboldt LiDAR
older alluvium surfaces on the east from much
smoother, younger alluvial fans to the west
(Fig. 3). Our mapping of the Rye Patch fault
location is the same as that of Davis (1983), who
used air-photo coverage.
Largely to the west of the Standard mine
and Rye Patch faults lies a series of curvilinear
features that we interpret as shorelines from
ancient Lake Lahontan (Fig. 3). These inferred
shorelines lie precisely along topographic contours, whereas the mapped faults do not (Fig. 5).
The southern part of the Rye Patch fault passes
across a small alluvial fan and displaces its surface, with the northwest side down (Fig. 5). The
fault also cuts shorelines from Lake Lahontan.
The shorelines are in deposits mapped as Holocene by Davis (1983), and the fault separates
these Holocene deposits from late Pleistocene
Sehoo Formation in the south and from preLahontan sediments toward the northeast. The
elevation of the Rye Patch fault as it cuts the
small alluvial fan and Lake Lahontan shorelines
is 1290 m (Fig. 5). The lake was at this elevation
12,500 500 yr ago, according to the work of
Thompson et al. (1986), Lin et al. (1996), and
Adams and Wesnousky (1998).
The southwest end of the Rye Patch fault
displaces the ground surface ~1 m (Fig. 5), and
appears to die out farther to the southwest. To
the northeast the fault scarp rises to a height of
56 m (Fig. 6). The scarp is not seen across a
small drainage and then rises to 35 m height.

After a larger gap of a few hundred meters, the


fault is again seen crossing an older alluvial fan
surface, but its height is diminished to about a
meter (just to the east of the Rye Patch power
plant; Fig. 3).
The Rec Area scarp, named because of its
proximity to the Rye Patch recreational area,
is a long, straight escarpment over 2 km long
(Fig. 3). The scarp has a relief of up to 5 m,
and contours follow it closely (Fig. 7). It can
be traced northward to a zone of complexity in
the Lahontan shorelines, and is not distinguishable from the other shorelines. We interpret this
feature as a beach ridge, and numerous borrow pits along the scarp suggest local mining
for sand. The scarp is cut by an alluvial stream
channel (Fig. 7). The Standard mine fault scarp
intersects the Rec Area scarp, but it does so in a
region that has been recently worked by earthmoving efforts, so the nature of the intersection
is unclear (Fig. 7). In addition, the Standard
mine fault scarp is quite subdued in this area.
The Standard mine fault zone is composed
of three segments that displace the surface of
older alluvium. The southwestern segment displaces the surface about a meter, near where it
intersects the Rec Area scarp. The central segment of the fault has a scarp height of 35 m,
and the northeastern extent of the fault has
relief of 58 m. Directly north of the latter segment, the Humboldt mountain fault has variable scarp height, ranging up to 12 m in relief

(Fig. 3). This segment of the fault has been


trenched (location T, Fig. 3) by Wesnousky
et al. (2005). The vertical separation at the
trench site was 3 m, and displaced charcoal
found in the trench at the fault was dated at
4626 181 calendar years (cal yr) B.P. Using
the scarp analysis method of Hanks (2000),
Wesnousky et al. (2005) concluded that the
penultimate event that dominates the trench
site occurred ~35 k.y. ago, and was responsible for most of the displacement (2.7 m) of
the scarp. Significant variability of scarp height
is seen on the Humboldt Mountain fault, the
Standard mine fault, and the Rye Patch fault.
Such variability may be due in part to variable
displacement history along the fault segments.
However, some variation is due to the differences in erosion and burial as a result of older
and younger alluvial processes.
The Humboldt Mountain fault cannot be
traced through the Florida Canyon mine by
LiDAR because of all of the earth-moving
activity within the mine site, but the fault is
clearly visible within the mine, where highly
altered rocks are juxtaposed against unaltered
alluvial fan deposits along the western pit walls
(MacKnight, 2005). Unaltered alluvial deposits
on the hanging wall of the range-front fault are
evidence against recent high-temperature fluid
flow to the surface along the fault. Fracturing is
intense in the pits along the range-front fault but
decreases away from the pits.

500 Meters

Shorelines

Young Alluvial Fan

e
Ry

h
tc
Pa

u
Fa

lt

Figure 5. Shaded-relief image (left) with superimposed 1-m contours (right) of southern end of the Rye Patch fault,
showing shorelines of ancient Lake Lahontan. Rye Patch fault cuts a young alluvial fan surface and displaces Lake
Lahontan shorelines. Note that contours follow shorelines exactly but do not follow the Rye Patch fault.

Geosphere, December 2011

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Silver et al.

Rye Patch Fault


Shorelines

Figure 3 (Hammond and Thatcher, 2005). The


dashed arrow in Figure 3 shows this direction,
and indicates that the Rye Patch and Standard
Mountain faults are oriented at high angles to
that direction of movement.
Mineralization and Mud Volcanoes

Figure 6. Shaded-relief image


with 1-m contours of central
part of Rye Patch fault and
shorelines of Lake Lahontan.

500 m

500 m
Standard Mine Fault

Rec Area Scarp

North of the Florida Canyon mine, we see


a continuation of the mountain-front faulting
(Fig. 4), and one example of faulting that cuts
the alluvial fan surface (Fig. 8). In this region
the Lake Lahontan shorelines are clearly delineated, and the fault cuts at an angle through
them. While the fault can be seen to cut the
older alluvial fans, it does not cut through the
younger fans, which appear to have the peaks of
their cones originating just above the top of the

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Figure 7. Shaded-relief image


and 1-m contours of Rec Area
scarp, showing location where
it is crossed by the south end of
the Standard mine fault.

fault scarp. The older fans also originate at the


Humboldt Mountain fault scarp.
Recent geodetic information based on permanent GPS stations of the Basin and Range
Geodetic Network (BARGEN) indicate that
western Nevada moves northwest (~295) with
respect to a stable North America reference
frame (Niemi et al., 2004). The closest site to the
Rye Patch geothermal district is station TUNG,
located 7 km to the south of the southern edge of

Geosphere, December 2011

Mineral mapping in the Humboldt House area


was focused over a 4 km 8 km area located
northwest of the Florida Canyon mine and east
of the Humboldt River (Fig. 9). Farther to the
south, in the Rye Patch area, illite and chlorite
dominate the clay mineralogy mapped with
the HyMap data, and these are likely derived
by drainage from the adjacent mountains. Five
mineral end members derived from analysis of
the HyMap data in the Humboldt House region
are sinter (opal and chalcedony), calcite, montmorillonite, gypsum, and iron oxides (hematite
and jarosite) (Fig. 9). The distribution of these
minerals is mapped over the HumboldtRye
Patch area, and specific areas of interest were
then targeted for field investigation. Most of the
alteration minerals (sinter, calcite, montmorillonite, gypsum, and iron oxides) are found in
abundance in the region of dune fields west
of the Florida Canyon mine. Minerals such as
illite and chlorite are found throughout the area,
but these may indicate erosional products from
the mountains. Drilling results (Johnson, 2005)
have shown a change from smectite to illite at
depth, indicating temperatures between 100 C
and 150 C (Inoue et al., 2004).
Using the LiDAR data we have identified several possible hydrothermal features: two mud
volcanoes and a field of low mounds less than
1 m tall (Fig. 9). These rocks were mapped as
part of the Wyemaha Formation by Davis (1983),
which he described as travertine armored spring
mounds. Figure 10 shows a closeup of a field
of dunes with a clearly identifiable mud volcano
and a field of small mounds. The mud volcano
is located 1.4 km northwest of the Florida Canyon mine and 1 km southwest of the Humboldt
House. This feature is ~25 m at the base and
4 m tall (Fig. 10). At the peak of the outcrop is
a crater 3 m in diameter and 1.5 m deep. Along
the eastern flank is a small tunnel that was dug
at the base of the outcrop, in which we identified gypsum, jarosite, and hematite using the
ASD spectrometer. Compositionally this outcrop grades from bulk sinter sheets at the base,
into a sinter-travertine mixed bedding at the peak
(MacKnight, 2005). The transition occurs a foot
below the peak of the outcrop. Extending from
the northern flank of the outcrop is an elongated
deposit of white sinter that is oriented N-S, and
its source appears to have been from the base of
the outcrop. A set of small conjugate faults was

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Young Alluvial Fan

Sh
or
el
in
e

Humboldt LiDAR

300 m

Fault
Young Alluvial Fan

Fault

Figure 8. Left: shaded-relief image of small fault west of Humboldt Mountain fault, with alluvial fans and shorelines of Lake Lahontan. Right: labeled, with 1-m contours.

Fig. 10

see Fig. 16
Figure 9. Left: Mineral identification of HyMap data using ENVI. Bluesinter, redcalcite, cyangypsum,
greenIllite. Right: shaded-relief light detection and ranging image of the same area, showing dune fields and
carbonate mounds. Locations of Figures 10 and 16 are shown on right.

found in the tunnel. The major fault identified in


the tunnel is synthetic to the range-front fault,
striking N-NE and dipping 6065 west. Minor
offset (24 cm) along this fault is documented
using the sinter bedding.
Thin sections taken from samples at the base
and upper part of the volcano flanks (Figs. 11
and 12) show it to be composed of carbonate-

cemented mudstone and sandstone. The photomicrograph in Figure 12 shows fine, arcuate
banding and carbonate veins, implying flow
structures, which would be consistent with mud
diapirism. We also field checked the region of
small mudrock mounds (Figs. 13 and 14) and
found all of these small features to contain abundant carbonate. The section in Figure 13 shows

Geosphere, December 2011

small mudstone pellets surrounded by carbonate


cement, and carbonate veins filling cracks in the
rock. These features are also layered (Fig. 13),
and a section from a different mound in this set
showed the same structure.
We discovered a second possible mud volcano (MV2) in the LiDAR data just to the NW
of the zone of small carbonate mounds (Fig. 15

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Silver et al.

Fig. 13

Dunes

Field of
Mounds
MV1

Fig. 11

200 meters
Figure 10. Detail of shaded-relief light detection and ranging data
showing mud volcano, dunes, and field of carbonate mounds. Also
located are Figures 11 and 13.

top). We field checked this finding and discovered that the proposed mud volcano was indeed
a mound ~2 m tall, with flanking structures
similar to that of MV1 and a small central crater
(also visible on the LiDAR image). The rocks
making up this mound are carbonate rich as
well, and appear to have the same origin as that
of MV1 and the small mounds. Daviss (1983)
depiction of this set of rocks as travertinearmored spring mounds implies that he felt they
were formed by fluid (springs) rising through
the surface and injecting into the Eetza Formation. Our discovery of at least two of these
mounds with central craters (MV1 and MV2),
and macroscopic and microscopic evidence for
soft sediment flowage (Fig. 12), supports our
suggestion that these features are mud volcanoes
with carbonate cement. The latter explains why
these features are lithified, although they are
only 23,00030,000 yr old.
A puzzling aspect of this region is that a relatively small part of the Wyemaha Formation is
identified as carbonate in the hyperspectral data,
even though the rock exposed at the surface
contains significant amounts of carbonate. We
suggest that the weak carbonate signal in the
airborne data is due to two potential causes. The
first is that much of the rock is not carbonate;
only the veins and pore filling are carbonate
cement. A second reason may be that regional
dust and surface alteration blanket the rocks, filtering the spectral signature in flown data.
On the southern part of Figure 9 there are two
parallel north-trending ridges, and the eastern
ridge shows displacement of beds in the field,
indicating faulting (Figs. 9 and 16). The east-

1364

ern ridge is associated with abundant sinter and


some gypsum deposits. A very subdued trace of
the west side of the easternmost ridge continues
to the south, cutting across the contours (Fig.
16). Davis (1983) mapped this short segment
as a fault but mapped the ridge as dune deposit.
We examined the ridge and found rock outcrops
exposed on its west side, suggesting to us that
the fault mapped by Davis (1983) actually continues northward and may be responsible for
the formation of this ridge. The western ridge
may be a dune deposit. As the feature that Davis
(1983) mapped as a fault continues to the south,
it becomes exactly parallel to contours and thus
indistinguishable from a shoreline feature.
DISCUSSION
Do the fault patterns and distribution of mineral alteration in the HumboldtRye Patch district
suggest the potential for additional exploration
sites? We feel that the answer to this question
is yes, and the clearly mapped faults in the
Rye Patch area are closely associated with
the Rye Patch geothermal system. The Rye
Patch fault, Standard mine fault, and the rangefront faults all are oriented at high angles to the
direction of movement indicated by regional
GPS studies (Fig. 3), suggesting maximum rates
of opening. Fluids circulating through these
faults at depth could be heated to high temperature because of the high geothermal gradients in
this region and evidence for mineral alteration
at depth in the cores. Exploration for high-temperature fluids might well focus just to the west
of the Standard Mountain and Rye Patch faults

Geosphere, December 2011

nearer to the range front, where these faults show


the greatest vertical displacement. In addition,
the intersections of these faults with the Humboldt Mountain fault would be expected to show
abnormally high fluid conductivity because of
the complex fracturing of such intersections.
Is there a relationship between the mineral
alteration and the faulting that we see in the
Humboldt River valley? At first glance the latter
relationship is weak. The faults in the Rye Patch
area, several of which cut the young alluvial
deposits and Lake Lahontan shorelines, do not
show signs of surface mineral alteration associated with them, although significant alteration
was discovered at depth by drilling (Johnson,
2005). In the region to the west of the Florida
Canyon mine, where we find abundant evidence
of sinter, calcite, montmorillonite, gypsum, and
hematite alteration products, their distributions
are generally not associated with faults. We
interpret one scarp associated with sinter and
carbonate as a fault (Fig. 8), but it has also been
interpreted by Davis (1983) as a dune structure.
We note that the mud volcanoes and small outcrops of sinter and calcite-cemented sands contain abundant alteration products, suggesting
that they may be the source of the altered minerals. Some of these altered minerals were transported by wind and runoff to attain a widespread
distribution throughout the region.
A recent drilling program (sites labeled D
in Fig. 4) undertaken near Humboldt House
in May 2003, revealed silicified sediments at
depth. One of the mud volcanoes (MV1) shows
evidence of being vertically-built hot spring
deposits, based on its layering and mineralogy,
indicating that hydrothermal fluids flowed up
through a vent and deposited material along the
flanks (MacKnight, 2005). We didnt carry out
detailed studies of the other mud volcano nor
did we bore into the mounds. However, their
surface structures and compositions are similar
to that of MV1.
How were the fluids brought to the surface? One possibility is by earthquake shaking, destabilizing buried sand and mud under
elevated fluid pressure to produce the mounds
and mud volcanoes. The requisite size of an
earthquake needed to produce liquefaction at a
given location can be estimated by the empirical
relationships of Galli (2000), who studied 317
instances of liquefaction features in Italy and
matched them with historical and modern earthquakes. Galli found relationships of the form:
Io = a + b log (Re),
where Io is earthquake intensity at the epicenter,
Re is distance from epicenter to the given location, and a and b are constants that differ with

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Humboldt LiDAR

Figure 11. Layering on the flank of mud volcano (MV1). Photomicrograph shown in Figure 12 was taken from near the top.

Figure 12. Photomicrograph from near the top of the mud volcano,
showing fine internal banding. White zone near the base of section
and scattered through the section is carbonate, as are light parts of
the bands.

Figure 13. Photo of small carbonate mound, located on Figure 10.


View is looking southward. Photomicrograph shown in Figure 14
taken close to rock hammer (near center of photo).

Figure 14. Photomicrograph from small carbonate mound shown in


Figure 14. White veins are carbonate.

the time clustering of the earthquakes. When all


earthquakes from 1117 to 1990 are considered,
their relationship is:
Io = 2.75 + 2.0 log (Re).
When we apply this relationship to a list of
all major earthquakes in Nevada since 1900, we
find that onethe 1915 Pleasant Valley earthquake (Jones, 1915)falls within the region
(~60 km away) in which liquefaction of material near Humboldt House could have occurred.
This earthquake had an estimated magnitude
of 7. In addition, trenching by Wesnousky et al.

(2005) discovered evidence for 2.7 m of vertical


displacement ~35 k.y. ago, and such displacement would be consistent with a magnitude 7+
earthquake. Thus, recent events as well as late
Pleistocene events would have been able to generate such liquefaction.
Several more recent studies have been
reported by Wang et al. (2005) and by Manga
and Brodsky (2006), who showed a relation
between the maximum hypocentral distance
(Rmax) and earthquake magnitude (M) for liquefaction: M = 5.0 + 2.26 log Rmax. Using
this relation implies that mud volcanism could
occur in the Humboldt Valley area from earth-

Geosphere, December 2011

quakes as far as 200 km away, if they were M 7


or above. In addition, the numerous faults we
have mapped might be capable of generating
sufficient levels of shaking to generate the mud
volcanoes with earthquake magnitudes as low as
5.0, assuming other factors are favorable, such
as pore pressures and liquefaction susceptibility
(Manga and Brodsky, 2006). Thus, as long as the
conditions are appropriate for liquefaction, this
region has sufficient seismicity to generate it.
Some fluid vents, such as mud volcano MV1
(Fig. 10), have gone through multiple injections
and have developed a compositional layering from sinter to travertine to hematite and/or

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Silver et al.

150 m

MV2

Mounds

Figure 15. Upper: Shaded-relief


light detection and ranging
image of region to the NW of
Figure 10, showing a second
mud volcano (MV2) and its
relation to carbonate mounds
shown in Figures 10 and 13.
Lower: Photo of MV2, looking
from the SE. Note person to the
right of arrow (1.6 m tall).

CONCLUSIONS

MV2

jarosite. This sequence suggests a longer lifetime than single events. If seismicity played a
role in fluidization of materials, it would likely
have been enhanced during late Pleistocene high
stands of Lake Lahontan, allowing the ground to
fully saturate. Because the cores show increasing temperature gradients approaching the range
front (Johnson, 2005), exploration would be best
focused there in the Humboldt House district.
Finally, can geothermal exploration be
improved significantly by the use of remote sensing? A number of previous studies have shown
a close relationship between mineral alteration
and faulting, and successful geothermal sites in
Long Valley, California; Dixie Valley, Nevada;
and BradyDesert Peak, Nevada, are associated
with high-temperature mineralization along
fault zones. Such regions have been mapped
with hyperspectral remote-sensing tools. In the
HumboldtRye Patch district, such relationships
are not clearly presented, but intersecting fault
systems mapped by LiDAR and earlier with air
photos (Davis, 1983) offer distinct exploration
possibilities. What our study provided beyond
that of Davis (1983) is the LiDAR evidence
showing that the Rye Patch fault cuts shore-

1366

Previous work by Davis (1983) had mapped


the distribution of travertine armored spring
mounds as part of the Wyemaha Formation,
which he dated at 2330 k.y. Our LiDAR work
showed clear locations of at least two mud volcanoes within the Wyemaha, and a set of small
carbonate mounds having similar structure to
that of the mud volcanoes. These structures and
associated siliceous sinter deposits suggest the
outflow of fluids sourced at some depth below
the surface. However, based on the results of
boreholes in this region, geothermal gradients
increase toward the mountain front, suggesting
that the better exploration sites for geothermal
fields would be closer to the mountain front,
possibly associated with either the Humboldt
Mountain fault or one of several small faults just
to the west of it.

lines from ancient Lake Lahontan at elevations


consistent with an age of ~12,000 yr, providing
some control on fault timing. The fault also cuts
a small alluvial fan, which in turn has buried the
12,000-yr-old shorelines.

We have mapped four recent faults in the


HumboldtRye Patch geothermal region, using
LiDAR imaging. These faults include the Humboldt Mountain fault, the Rye Patch fault, the
Standard Mountain fault (new name), and a
small fault to the northwest of the Florida Canyon mine. Most of these faults were known
from previous work (Davis, 1983; dePolo,
2008). However, the LiDAR allowed us to see
the detailed relationships between their escarpments and latest Pleistocene shorelines from
Lake Lahontan, whose ages (~12,000 yr) are
reported by previous studies. One of the faults,
the Rye Patch fault, also cut a small alluvial
fan, which in turn had buried these shorelines.
These faults are not associated with clear signs
of surface mineral alteration, but our hyperspectral data showed widespread alteration in the

Figure 16. Shaded-relief light


detection and ranging image
and 1-m contours of ridges
west of Florida Canyon mine.
Dashed line represents fault
mapped by Davis (1983), shown
here continuing along the west
flank of the eastern ridge. Fault
cuts across contours south of
the ridge.

200 m

Geosphere, December 2011

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Humboldt LiDAR
Humboldt House district, including siliceous
sinter, carbonate, montmorillonite, hematite,
chlorite, and illite. Also in the Humboldt House
district we mapped two mud volcanoes and a set
of low mounds that are lithified with carbonate
cement. We interpret these as intrusion features,
possibly triggered by nearby seismic events,
similar to events known to have occurred in the
past century as well as from paleoseismic studies on the Humboldt Mountain fault.
In this paper we have explored whether faults,
mineral alteration, and evidence of fluid venting
offer additional geothermal exploration sites,
whether signs of fluid venting can be explained
by earthquake shaking, and whether use of
remote-sensing tools improves geothermal
exploration. The first question is answered
affirmatively, and we suggest that additional
exploration sites should be associated with intersections of NE-striking faults and the Humboldt
Mountain fault. The locations of fluid vents may
not be ideal sites for exploration, but sites closer
to the mountain front are preferred, based on
results of regional measurements of thermal gradients. For the second question, we have shown
that this region receives sufficient seismic shaking from local and more regional seismicity to
trigger the eruption of mud diapirism. Finally,
much evidence already exists to show the utility of remote sensing in geothermal exploration.
Here we have added LiDAR to demonstrate
its great usefulness in mapping relationships
between geomorphic features (faults, ancient
shorelines, and small alluvial fans) and in recognizing mud volcanoes and small carbonate
mounds. We recommend that such tools be used
as the first line of exploration to narrow down
potential sites for more detailed, on-site studies.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We are grateful for the excellent comments of


two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor.
We thank Ty Kennedy Bowdoin and Martha Jordan
for field assistance, Sky Research for acquisition and
processing of the LiDAR data, and Brigette Martini
and Richard Ellis for very helpful discussions. Funding for data acquisition was provided by a Department
of Energy grant (W-7405-Eng-48) to Bill Pickles, in
whose memory we dedicate this paper. Funding for
student and travel support was made from Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory to University of California, Santa Cruz (E. Silver), on an inter-university
transfer (B52628).
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REVISED MANUSCRIPT RECEIVED 17 AUGUST 2011
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