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Geologic Publications for Mount Rainier

Characteristics, extent and origin of hydrothermal alteration at Mount Rainier Volcano, Cascades Arc, USA: Implications for debris-flow hazards and mineral deposits

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Author(s): David A. John, Thomas W. Sisson, George N. Breit, Robert O. Rye, James W. Vallance

Document Type:
Publisher: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Published Year: 2008
Volume: 175
Number: 3
Pages: 289 to 314
DOI Identifier: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2008.04.004
ISBN Identifier:
Keywords: hydrothermal alteration volcano hazards debris flows O, H, S stable isotopes magmatic-hydrothermal system

Hydrothermal alteration at Mount Rainier waxed and waned over the 500,000-year episodic growth of the edifice. Hydrothermal minerals and their stable-isotope compositions in samples collected from outcrop and as clasts from Holocene debris-flow deposits identify three distinct hypogene argillic/advanced argillic hydrothermal environments: magmatic-hydrothermal, steam-heated, and magmatic steam (fumarolic), with minor superimposed supergene alteration. The 3.8 km3 Osceola Mudflow (5600 y BP) and coeval phreatomagmatic F tephra contain the highest temperature and most deeply formed hydrothermal minerals. Relatively deeply formed magmatic-hydrothermal alteration minerals and associations in clasts include quartz (residual silica), quartz–alunite, quartz–topaz, quartz–pyrophyllite, quartz–dickite/kaolinite, and quartz–illite (all with pyrite). Clasts of smectite–pyrite and steam-heated opal–alunite–kaolinite are also common in the Osceola Mudflow. In contrast, the Paradise lahar, formed by collapse of the summit or near-summit of the edifice at about the same time, contains only smectite–pyrite and near-surface steam-heated and fumarolic alteration minerals. Younger debris-flow deposits on the west side of the volcano (Round Pass and distal Electron Mudflows) contain only low-temperature smectite–pyrite assemblages, whereas the proximal Electron Mudflow and a < 100 y BP rock avalanche on Tahoma Glacier also contain magmatic-hydrothermal alteration minerals that are exposed in the avalanche headwall of Sunset Amphitheater, reflecting progressive incision into deeper near-conduit alteration products that formed at higher temperatures.

The pre-Osceola Mudflow alteration geometry is inferred to have consisted of a narrow feeder zone of intense magmatic-hydrothermal alteration limited to near the conduit of the volcano, which graded outward to more widely distributed, but weak, smectite–pyrite alteration within 1 km of the edifice axis, developed chiefly in porous breccias. The edifice was capped by a steam-heated alteration zone, most of which resulted from condensation of fumarolic vapor and oxidation of H2S in the unsaturated zone above the water table. Weakly developed smectite–pyrite alteration extended into the west and east flanks of the edifice, spatially associated with dikes that are localized in those sectors; other edifice flanks lack dikes and associated alteration. The Osceola collapse removed most of the altered core and upper east flank of the volcano, but intensely altered rocks remain on the uppermost west flank.

Major conclusions of this study are that: (1) Hydrothermal–mineral assemblages and distributions at Mount Rainier can be understood in the framework of hydrothermal processes and environments developed from studies of ore deposits formed in analogous settings. (2) Frequent eruptions supplied sufficient hot magmatic fluid to alter the upper interior of the volcano hydrothermally, despite the consistently deep (≥ 8 km) magma reservoir which may have precluded formation of economic mineral deposits within or at shallow depths beneath Mount Rainier. The absence of indicator equilibrium alteration-mineral assemblages in the debris flows that effectively expose the volcano to a depth of 1–1.5 km also suggests a low potential for significant high-sulfidation epithermal or porphyry-type mineral deposits at depth. (3) Despite the long and complex history of the volcano, intensely altered collapse-prone rocks were spatially restricted to near the volcano's conduit system and summit, and short distances onto the upper east and west flanks, due to the necessary supply of reactive components carried by ascending magmatic fluids. (4) Intensely altered rocks were removed from the summit, east flank, and edifice interior by the Osceola collapse, but remain on the upper west flank in the Sunset Amphitheater area and present a continuing collapse hazard. (5) Visually conspicuous rocks on the lower east and mid-to-lower west flanks are not intensely altered and probably have not significantly weakened the rock, and thus do not present significant collapse hazards. (6) Alteration developed most intensely within breccia units, because of their high permeability and porosity. Volcanoes with abundant near-conduit upper-edifice breccias are prone to alteration increasing the possibility of collapse, whereas those that are breccia-poor (e.g., massive domes) are less prone to alteration.

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Suggested Citations:
In Text Citation:
John and others (2008) or (John et al., 2008)

References Citation:
John, D.A., T.W. Sisson, G.N. Breit, R.O. Rye, and J.W. Vallance, 2008, Characteristics, extent and origin of hydrothermal alteration at Mount Rainier Volcano, Cascades Arc, USA: Implications for debris-flow hazards and mineral deposits: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Vol. 175, No. 3, pp. 289-314, doi: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2008.04.004.