Hot springs are numerous and nearly uniformly distributed in northern Nevada. Most occur on the flanks of basins, along Basin and Range (late Miocene to Holocene) faults, while some occur in the inner parts of the basins. Surface temperatures of the springs range from slightly above ambient to, boiling; some springs are superheated. Maximum subsurface water temperatures calculated on the basis of quartz solubility range as high as 252?C, although most are below 190?C. Flows range from a trickle to several hundred liters per minute.
The Nevada geothermal systems differ markedly from the power-producing system at The Geysers, Calif., and from those areas with a high potential, for power production (e.g., Yellowstone Park, Wyo.; Jemez Mountains, N. Mex.). These other systems are associated with Quaternary felsic volcanic rocks and probably derive their heat from cooling magma rather high in the crust. In northern Nevada, however, felsic volcanic rocks are virtually all older than 10 million years, and. analogous magmatic heat sources are, therefore, probably lacking.
Nevada is part of an area of much higher average heat flow than the rest of the United States. In north-central Nevada, geothermal gradients are as great as 64?C per kilometer in bedrock and even higher in basin fill. The high gradients probably result from a combination of thin crust and high temperature upper mantle.
We suggest that the geothermal systems of northern Nevada result from circulation of meteoric waters along Basin and Range faults and that their temperature chiefly depends upon (1) depth of circulation and (2) the geothermal gradient near the faults.