Field guide to hydrothermal alteration in the White River altered area and in the Osceola Mudflow, Washington

Bulletin 2217

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The Cenozoic Cascades arcs of southwestern Washington are the product of long-lived, but discontinuous, magmatism beginning in the Eocene and continuing to the present (for example, Christiansen and Yeats, 1992). This magmatism is the result of subduction of oceanic crust beneath the North American continent. The magmatic rocks are divided into two subparallel, north-trending continental-margin arcs, the Eocene to Pliocene Western Cascades, and the Quaternary High Cascades, which overlies, and is east of, the Western Cascades. Both arcs are calc-alkaline and are characterized by voluminous mafic lava flows (mostly basalt to basaltic andesite compositions) and scattered large stratovolcanoes of mafic andesite to dacite compositions. Silicic volcanism is relatively uncommon. Quartz diorite to granite plutons are exposed in more deeply eroded parts of the Western Cascades Arc (for example, Mount Rainier area and just north of Mt. St. Helens). Hydrothermal alteration is widespread in both Tertiary and Quaternary igneous rocks of the Cascades arcs. Most alteration in the Tertiary Western Cascades Arc resulted from hydrothermal systems associated with small plutons, some of which formed porphyry copper and related deposits, including copper-rich breccia pipes, polymetallic veins, and epithermal gold-silver deposits. Hydrothermal alteration also is present on many Quaternary stratovolcanoes of the High Cascades Arc. On some High Cascades volcanoes, this alteration resulted in severely weakened volcanic edifices that were susceptible to failure and catastrophic landslides. Most notable is the sector collapse of the northeast side of Mount Rainier that occurred about 5,600 yr. B.P. This collapse resulted in formation of the clay-rich Osceola Mudflow that traveled 120 km down valley from Mount Rainier to Puget Sound covering more than 200 km2. This field trip examines several styles and features of hydrothermal alteration related to Cenozoic magmatism in the Cascades arcs. The morning of the trip will examine the White River altered area, which includes high-level alteration related to a large, early Miocene magmatic-hydrothermal system exposed about 10 km east of Enumclaw, Washington. Here, vuggy silica alteration is being quarried for silica and advanced argillic alteration has been prospected for alunite. Clay-filled fractures and sulfide-rich, fine-grained sedimentary rocks of hydrothermal origin locally are enriched in precious metals. Many hydrothermal features common in high-sulfidation gold-silver deposits and in advanced argillic alteration zones overlying porphyry copper deposits (for example, Gustafson and Hunt, 1975; Hedenquist and others, 2000; Sillitoe, 2000) are exposed, although no economic base or precious metal mineralized rock has been discovered to date. The afternoon will be spent examining two exposures of the Osceola Mudflow along the White River. The Osceola Mudflow contains abundant clasts of altered Quaternary rocks from Mount Rainier that show various types of hydrothermal alteration and hydrothermal features. The mudflow matrix contains abundant hydrothermal clay minerals that added cohesiveness to the debris flow and helped allow it to travel much farther down valley than other, noncohesive debris flows from Mount Rainier (Crandell, 1971; Vallance and Scott, 1997). The White River altered area is the subject of ongoing studies by geoscientists from Weyerhaeuser Company and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The generalized descriptions of the geology, geophysics, alteration, and mineralization presented here represent the preliminary results of this study (Ashley and others, 2003). Additional field, geochemical, geochronologic, and geophysical studies are underway. The Osceola Mudflow and other Holocene debris flows from Mount Rainier also are the subject of ongoing studies by the USGS (for example, Breit and others, 2003; John and others, 2003; Plumlee and others, 2003, Sisson and others, 2003; Vallance and others, 2003). Studies of hydrothermal alteration in the Osceola Mudflow are being used to better understand fossil hydrothermal systems on Mount Rainier and potential hazards associated with this alteration.

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Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Field guide to hydrothermal alteration in the White River altered area and in the Osceola Mudflow, Washington
Series title:
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Geology, Minerals, Energy and Geophysics Science Center
v, 52 p.
Number of Pages:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Cascade Mountains