Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Imaging the magmatic plumbing of the Clear Lake Volcanic Field using 3-D gravity inversions

March 1, 2023

The Quaternary Clear Lake Volcanic Field (CLVF) in the Northern California Coast Range is the youngest of a string of northward-younging volcanic centers in the state. The CLVF is located within the broad San Andreas Transform Fault System and has been active intermittently for ∼2 million years. Heat beneath the CLVF supports The Geysers, one of the largest producing geothermal fields in the world.

Previous geophysical studies proposed the existence of a magma reservoir beneath Mount Hannah, which is northeast of The Geysers, near the geographic center of the CLVF. The lateral extent, depth, and presence of melt within this reservoir are poorly constrained, as is the relationship between this body and the broader magmatic plumbing of the CLVF. To gain a clearer and more comprehensive picture of the CLVF magma source region, a gravity dataset was compiled and the first 3-D gravity inversions of the CLVF were completed.

Field and synthetic model inversions from the current study both indicate that the gravity low roughly centered on Mount Hannah is not accurately explained by a 5–7 km thick lens of Mesozoic Great Valley Sequence (ρ=2.58g/cm3">�=2.58g/cm3) as proposed by Stanley et al. (1998). The observed gravity low is more accurately described by one or more silicic, partial melt bodies between The Geysers and Mount Hannah. Although our inversions cannot constrain the exact depth and geometry of these bodies, the recovered models indicate the existence of a partial melt zone between 6 and 13 km depth.

The prolonged eruption history of the CLVF, coupled with the compositional variation of erupted rocks over time and space, is consistent with the existence of several, potentially ephemeral, melt-bearing bodies as opposed to one large melt body. Given the density and location of the recovered anomaly, rhyolite-MELTS thermodynamic modeling suggests the existence of 10–30% rhyodacitic melt within the proposed silicic magma reservoir at about 700 °C and 8 km depth (210 MPa). Independent petrologic, geochemical, and seismic evidence indicates that this silicic partial melt zone is underlain by basaltic melt in the lower to middle crust (13 to 21 km depth), which is fed by a mantle source.

Eruptions in the past ∼8.5–13.5 thousand years; high regional heat flow; 3He enrichment of hydrothermal fluids; and our modeling, which suggests the presence of a mid-crustal, silicic partial melt zone, point to a still-active CLVF. The relatively low estimates of partial melt (10–30%) predicted by thermodynamic modeling indicates that an injection of new magma into the imaged partial melt zone is needed to generate sufficient melt to incite future eruptions. Despite the low percent melt estimates within the proposed silicic partial melt zone the potential for future volcanic eruption remains. Due to the proximity of the CLVF to cities surrounding Clear Lake and the densely populated San Francisco Bay Area, continued research and monitoring of the volcanic field are warranted. The geophysical and petrologic modeling presented here improves our understanding of the CLVF magma plumbing system and allows us to better characterize its associated volcanic hazards.

Publication Year 2023
Title Imaging the magmatic plumbing of the Clear Lake Volcanic Field using 3-D gravity inversions
DOI 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2023.107758
Authors Michael Albert Mitchell, Jared R. Peacock, Seth D. Burgess
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Index ID 70242695
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center; Volcano Science Center