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Which geologic factors control permeability development in geothermal systems? The geologic structure of Dixie Valley

December 1, 2018

Geothermal systems occur where subsurface permeability and temperature are sufficiently high to drive fluid circulation. In the Great Basin region of the United States, which hosts ~20% of domestic geothermal electricity generation capacity and much of the projected undeveloped and undiscovered resource, crustal heat flow is relatively high, so permeability is the dominant factor controlling the occurrence or absence of a geothermal system. In the most general sense, fracture permeability along faults and/or networks of interconnected faults and fractures serves as a pathway for fluids upwelling from depth. Within the Great Basin, Dixie Valley hosts an anomalously high number of geothermal systems. It is unclear whether this relatively dense collection of systems is associated with regional strain or structural patterns, local structural or geological characteristics, basin hydrogeology, or some other factors. The relatively rich data-set available for Dixie Valley, and the well-studied nature of the area affords the opportunity to characterize the geologic and lithologic factors that control permeability development at the local scale. There are at least eleven distinct geothermal systems in Dixie Valley, NV. We utilize a wealth of existing data, which have been collected over several decades, to assess the geologic controls on geothermal fluid upwelling in these systems.

  • USGS Source: Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70201794)