Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Reich, M., Arancibia, G., Pérez, P., Sánchez, P., Cembrano, J., Lohmar, S., Stimac, J. 2012. The feedback between active tectonics, fluid flow and mineralization in an Andean geothermal reservoir: a case study from the Tolhuaca system, southern Chile. Abstracts of AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco California, USA, 3-7 December. (2012)

The feedback between active tectonics, fluid flow and mineralization in an Andean geothermal reservoir: a case study from the Tolhuaca system, southern Chile

Revista : American Geophysical Union`s Fall Meeting
Tipo de publicación : Conferencia No DCC


In the Andean Cordillera of Central-Southern Chile, geothermal resources occur in close spatial relationship with active volcanism. The nature of the relationship between tectonics and volcanism in this region is the result of interaction between the crustal structures of the basement and the ongoing regional stress field, which is primarily controlled by the oblique convergence of the Nazca and South America Plates. Between 39° and 46°S, the volcanic and geothermal activity is controlled by the NNE-trending, 1,000 km long Liquiñe-Ofqui Fault Zone (LOFZ), an intra-arc dextral strike-slip fault system, associated with second-order intra-arc anisotropies of overall NE- SW and NW-SE orientation. Although there is consensus that volcanism (and hence geothermal activity) in southern Chile is largely controlled by the regional-scale tectonic stress field and architecture of the volcanic arc, there is limited scientific information about the role of local kinematic conditions on fluid flow and mineralization during the development and evolution of geothermal reservoirs. In Andean geothermal reservoirs, rock, faults and fractures provide the primary source of permeability. Yet the active precipitation of minerals and chemical alteration in many hydrothermal systems implies that fractures conducting fluids in the subsurface will often seal and permeability will be lost.In this report, we present the preliminary results of an undergoing structural, mineralogical and geochemical study of the Tolhuaca geothermal system, located on the NW flank of the heavily glaciated, young but inactive Tolhuaca Volcano in southern Chile. The Tolhuaca geothermal reservoir formed as a liquid-dominated hydrothermal system, where shallow upflow resulted in near-boiling temperatures in a roughly horizontal liquid reservoir at 100-200 m depth (Melosh et al., 2010, 2012). In an early stage of evolution, hydrothermal brecciation and phase-separation (boiling) episodes penetrated at least 950 m depth into the deeper reservoir, and boiling was followed by steam-heated water invasion that cooled the reservoir (Melosh et al., 2012). In a later stage, the preliminary conceptual model involves boiling and reheating of the reservoir, forming a system with deep hot brines that is connected to the shallow steam zone by an upflow conduit that is characterized by high-temperature mineralogy (Melosh et al., 2012).The structural analysis of veins, fault-veins and faults of the Tol-1 drillcore (~1080 m depth) provide insights regarding the role of faults and fractures networks on the chemical evolution and migration pattern of hydrothermal fluids in the reservoir. More than 120 structural measurements of faults, veins and fault-veins were performed along the drillcore, and 47 samples were taken for petrography and fluid inclusions studies. Detailed mapping of structures, including dip and kinematic indicators from mineral sealing reveal a strong correlation between abundance of structures and rock type. Lava intervals exhibit more intense fracturing and veining than tuff and volcanoclastic intervals. In the upper 300 m of the core, structures are primarily steeply dipping with a dominant normal sense of displacement (some dextral component). Below a cataclastic zone at 300 m, structures are more variable in dip and sense of motion, with some reverse faults.Considering the fact that tectonic activity defines the nature, geometry and kinematics of fault/fracture networks, a better understanding of the structural pattern and its link with the chemical evolution of fluids may give significant insights into the processes governing the dynamics of the geothermal system. This is particularly critical for continuing research into the understanding of geothermal reservoirs in Chile, where the links between structural features and fluid evolution remain largely unconstrained.