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Deep geothermal brine near Salton Sea, California

July 14, 1964

A well drilled for geothermal power near Salton Sea in Imperial Valley, Calif., is 5,232 feet deep; it is the deepest well in the world (1962) in a high-temperature hot spring area. In the lower half of the hole temperatures are too high to measure with available equipment, but are at loast 270°C, and may be as much as 370°C. For comparison, maximum temperature heretofore reported at depth (1962) for hot spring areas is 295°C.

The well taps a very saline brine of Na-Ca-K-Cl type (about 185,000 ppm Cl) with exceptionally high potassium, and with the highest content of minor alkali elements known for natural waters; Fe, Mn, Zn, Pb, Cu, Ag, and some other metals are also exceptionally high. This brine may be connate, but present evidence favors a source in the magma chamber at depth that supplied late Quaternary rhyolite domes of the area. If the latter is correct, the brine is an undiluted magmatic water that is residual from the separation of a more volatile phase high in CO2, H2S, and with some alkali halides. Elsewhere, the hypothesized volatile phase may account for near-surface hot spring activity of most thermal areas of volcanic association. The residual brine of high salinity may ordinarily remain relatively deep in the volcanic systems because of high specific gravity and low content of volatiles, seldom appearing at the surface except in a greatly diluted form.

The hot springs of Arima, Japan, may be a rare example of this type of magmatic water discharging at the surface in moderate concentration (Cl as much as 42,000 ppm). Independent evidence from fluid inclusions in minerals of high-temperature base-metal deposits also favors the existence of magmatic water high in Na, Ca, and Cl, and low in CO2 and other volatile components.

During a three-month production test several tons of material precipitated in the horizontal discharge pipe from the well. Amorphous silica with iron and manganese, and bornite are the dominant recognized components. This material contains the astonishingly high contents of about 20 percent copper, 2 percent silver, and notable sulfur, arsenic, bismuth, lead, antimony, and some other minor elements. Total quantities of all elements in the original whole brine are not yet known, but calculated amounts corresponding to 1 to 3 ppm of copper and 0.1 to 0.3 ppm of silver were precipitated from the brine to form the pipe deposits. The brine, therefore, may be man’s first sample of an « active » ore solution.

Equally fascinating to many geologists is the possibility that in the lower part of the hole temperatures are so high and pressures are sufficient for young sedimentary rocks to be undergoing transformation into rocks with mineral assemblages of the greenschist facies of metamorphism. Drill cores from 4,400 to 5,000 feet in depth contain chlorite, albite, K-feldspar, epidote, mica, and quartz, with some indication of increase in metamorphic grade downward. Regional geological and geophysical studies favor a depth of about 20,000 feet to pre-Tertiary basement rocks in the general area. A shallow basement or local upfaulting of old metamorphic rocks are not likely possibilities for the thermal area.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1964
Title Deep geothermal brine near Salton Sea, California
DOI 10.1007/BF02597534
Authors Donald E. White
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin Volcanologique
Series Number
Index ID 70221902
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization