The Interplay Between Saline Fluid Flow and Dynamic Permeability in Magmatic-Hydrothermal Systems

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 10:20 AM
Philipp Weis, ETH Zuerich, Zuerich, Switzerland
Magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits document the interplay between saline fluid flow and rock permeability. Numerical simulations of multi-phase flow of variably miscible, compressible H20-NaCl fluids in concert with a dynamic permeability model can reproduce characteristics of porphyry copper and epithermal gold systems. This dynamic permeability model incorporates depth-dependent permeability profiles characteristic for tectonically active crust as well as pressure- and temperature-dependent relationships describing hydraulic fracturing and the transition from brittle to ductile rock behavior. In response to focused expulsion of magmatic fluids from a crystallizing upper crustal magma chamber, the hydrothermal system self-organizes into a hydrological divide, separating an inner part dominated by ascending magmatic fluids under near-lithostatic pressures from a surrounding outer part dominated by convection of colder meteoric fluids under near-hydrostatic pressures. This hydrological divide also provides a mechanism to transport magmatic salt through the crust, and prevents the hydrothermal system to become “clogged” by precipitation of solid halite due to depressurization of saline, high-temperature magmatic fluids. The same physical processes at similar permeability ranges, crustal depths and flow rates are relevant for a number of active systems, including geothermal resources and excess degassing at volcanos. The simulations further suggest that the described mechanism can separate the base of free convection in high-enthalpy geothermal systems from the magma chamber as a driving heat source by several kilometers in the vertical direction in tectonic settings with hydrous magmatism. This hydrology would be in contrast to settings with anhydrous magmatism, where the base of the geothermal systems may be closer to the magma chamber.