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Open-File Report 2009-1284

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Geophysical Characterization of Subsurface Properties Relevant to the Hydrology of the Standard Mine in Elk Basin, Colorado

By Burke J. Minsley, Lyndsay B. Ball, Bethany L. Burton, Jonathan Saul Caine, Erika Curry-Elrod, and Andrew H. Manning


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Geophysical data were collected at the Standard Mine in Elk Basin near Crested Butte, Colorado, to help improve the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s understanding of the hydrogeologic controls in the basin and how they affect surface and groundwater interactions with nearby mine workings. These data are discussed in the context of geologic observations at the site, the details of which are provided in a separate report. This integrated approach uses the geologic observations to help constrain subsurface information obtained from the analysis of surface geophysical measurements, which is a critical step toward using the geophysical data in a meaningful hydrogeologic framework. This approach combines the benefit of many direct but sparse field observations with spatially continuous but indirect measurements of physical properties through the use of geophysics. Surface geophysical data include: (1) electrical resistivity profiles aimed at imaging variability in subsurface structures and fluid content; (2) self-potentials, which are sensitive to mineralized zones at this site and, to a lesser extent, shallow-flow patterns; and (3) magnetic measurements, which provide information on lateral variability in near-surface geologic features, although there are few magnetic minerals in the rocks at this site.

Results from the resistivity data indicate a general two-layer model in which an upper highly resistive unit, 3 to 10 meters thick, overlies a less resistive unit that is imaged to depths of 20 to 25 meters. The high resistivity of the upper unit likely is attributed to unsaturated conditions, meaning that the contact between the upper and lower units may correspond to the water table. Significant lateral heterogeneity is observed because of the presence of major features such as the Standard and Elk fault veins, as well as highly heterogeneous joint distributions. Very high resistivities (greater than 10 kiloohmmeters) are observed in locations that may correspond to more silicified, lower porosity rock. Several thin (2 to 3 meters deep and up to tens of meters wide) low-resistivity features in the very near surface coincide with observed surface-water drainage features at the site. These are limited to depths less than 3 meters and may indicate surface and very shallow groundwater flowing downhill on top of less permeable bedrock. The data do not clearly point to discrete zones of high infiltration, but these cannot be ruled out given the heterogeneous nature of joints in the shallow subsurface. Disseminated and localized electrically conductive mineralization do not appear to play a strong role in controlling the resistivity values, which generally are high throughout the site.

The self-potential analysis highlights the Standard fault vein, the northwest (NW) Elk vein near the Elk portal, and several polymetallic quartz veins. These features contain sulfide minerals in the subsurface that form an electrochemical cell that produces their distinct self-potential signal. A smaller component of the self-potential signal is attributed to relatively moderate topographically driven shallow groundwater flow, which is most prevalent in the vicinity of Elk Creek and to a lesser extent in the area of surface-water drainage below the Level 5 portal. Given the anomalies associated with the electrochemical weathering near the Standard fault vein, it is not possible to completely rule out downward infiltration of surface water and shallow groundwater intersected by the fault, though this is an unlikely scenario given the available data.

Magnetic data show little variation, consistent with the mostly nonmagnetic host rocks and mineralization at the site, which is verified by magnetic susceptibility measurements and X-ray diffraction mineralogy data on local rock samples. The contact between the Ohio Creek Member of the Mesaverde Formation and Wasatch Formation coincides with a change in character of the magnetic signature, though there is some ambiguity that is possibly because of variations in surficial deposits over portions of the Ohio Creek. Magnetic anomalies are associated with several, though certainly not all, mapped polymetallic veins, which may be related to the heterogeneous distribution of magnetic minerals at the site.

First posted March 8, 2010

For additional information contact:

Team Chief Scientist,
USGS Crustal Imaging and Characterization
Box 25046, Mail Stop 964
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Minsley, B.J., Ball, L.B., Burton, B.L., Caine, J.S., Curry-Elrod, E., and Manning, A.H., 2010, Geophysical characterization of subsurface properties relevant to the hydrology of the Standard Mine in Elk Basin, Colorado, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009–1284, 46 p.




Site Background


Observations and Data

Summary of Key Observations and Hypotheses


References Cited


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