Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Are modern geothermal waters in northwest Nevada forming epithermal gold deposits?

January 1, 2010

Hydrothermal systems currently are active near some gold deposits in northwestern Nevada. Possible links of these modern systems to gold mineralization were evaluated by chemically and isotopically analyzing water samples from the Brady, Dixie Valley, Humboldt House, San Emidio-Empire, Soda Lake, and Wabuska geothermal areas. In addition, quartz veins from Humboldt House and the adjacent Florida Canyon Mine were analyzed to compare ore and gangue phases with those predicted to form from proximal hydrothermal fluids.

Nearly all water samples are alkali-chloride-type. Total dissolved solids range from 800 to 3900 mg/L, and pH varies from 5.6 to 7.8. Geochemical modeling with SOLVEQ, WATCH, and CHILLER predict the precipitation of silica in all systems during cooling. Anhydrite, calcite, barite, pyrite, base-metal sulfides, and alumino-silicates are variably saturated at calculated reservoir temperatures and also precipitate during boiling/cooling of some fluids. Measured dissolved gold concentrations are low (<0.2μg/L), but are generally consistent with contents predicted by equilibrium of sampled solutions with elemental gold at reservoir temperatures.  Although the modern geothermal waters can precipitate ore minerals, the low gold and other ore metal concentrations require very large fluid volumes to form a deposit of economic interest.