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Keywords:

  • groundwater flow;
  • volcanic edifice;
  • Cascade Range;
  • water table;
  • numerical simulations;
  • stratovolcano

[1] The position of the water table within a volcanic edifice has significant implications for volcano hazards, geothermal energy, and epithermal mineralization. We have modified the HYDROTHERM numerical simulator to allow for a free-surface (water table) upper boundary condition and a wide range of recharge rates, heat input rates, and thermodynamic conditions representative of continental volcano-hydrothermal systems. An extensive set of simulations was performed on a hypothetical stratovolcano system with unconfined groundwater flow. Simulation results suggest that the permeability structure of the volcanic edifice and underlying material is the dominant control on water table elevation and the distribution of pressures, temperatures, and fluid phases at depth. When permeabilities are isotropic, water table elevation decreases with increasing heat flux and increases with increasing recharge, but when permeabilities are anisotropic, these effects can be much less pronounced. Several conditions facilitate the ascent of a hydrothermal plume into a volcanic edifice: a sufficient source of heat and magmatic volatiles at depth, strong buoyancy forces, and a relatively weak topography-driven flow system. Further, the plume must be connected to a deep heat source through a pathway with a time-averaged effective permeability ≥1 × 10−16 m2, which may be maintained by frequent seismicity. Topography-driven flow may be retarded by low permeability in the edifice and/or the lack of precipitation recharge; in the latter case, the water table may be relatively deep. Simulation results were compared with observations from the Quaternary stratovolcanoes along the Cascade Range of the western United States to infer hydrothermal processes within the edifices. Extensive ice caps on many Cascade Range stratovolcanoes may restrict recharge on the summits and uppermost flanks. Both the simulation results and limited observational data allow for the possibility that the water table beneath the stratovolcanoes is relatively deep.