The Glass Buttes volcanic complex is a cluster of bimodal (basalt-rhyolite), Miocene to Pleistocene age lava flows and domes located in Oregon's High Lava Plains province, a broad region of Cenozoic bimodal volcanism in south-central Oregon. The High Lava Plains is deformed by northwest-striking faults of the Brothers Fault Zone, a diffuse, ~N40°W trending zone of en echelon faults cutting ~250 km obliquely across the High Lava Plains. Individual fault segments within the Brothers Fault Zone are typically <20 km long, strike ~N40°W, have apparent normal separation with 10-100 m throw. A smaller population of ~5-10 km long faults striking ~N30°E exhibits mutually crosscutting relationships with the dominant northwest striking faults.
Basaltic volcanic rocks in the Glass Buttes area erupted during the late Miocene and Pleistocene. The oldest and youngest lavas are 6.49±0.03 Ma and 1.39±0.18 Ma, respectively, based on ⁴⁰Ar/³⁹Ar ages of five basaltic units. Numerous small mafic vents both within and around the margins of the main silicic dome complex are commonly localized along northwest-striking faults of the Brothers Fault Zone. These vents erupted a diverse suite of basalt to basaltic andesite lava flows that are here differentiated into 15 stratigraphic units based on hand sample texture and mineralogy as well as major and trace element geochemistry.
The structural fabric of the Glass Buttes area is dominated by small displacement, discontinuous, en echelon, northwest-striking fault scarps that result from normal to slightly oblique displacements and are commonly linked by relay ramps. Northwest alignment of basaltic and rhyolitic vents, paleotopography, and cross-cutting relationships suggest these faults have been active since at least 6.49±0.03 Ma, the age of the rhyolite lavas in the eastern Glass Buttes are. Faults displace Quaternary sedimentary deposits indicating these structures continue to be active into the Quaternary. Long-term extension rates across northwest-striking faults calculated from 2-5 km long cross section restorations range from 0.004 – 0.02 mm/yr with an average of 0.12 mm/yr.
A subordinate population of discontinuous northeast-striking faults form scarps and exhibit mutually cross-cutting relationships with the dominant northwest-striking population. Cross-cutting relationships indicate faulting on northeast-striking faults ceased sometime between 4.70±0.27 Ma and 1.39±0.18 Ma.
Gravity data at Glass Buttes reveals prominent northwest- and northeast-trending
gravity gradients that closely parallel the strikes of surface faults. These are interpreted
as large, deep-seated, normal faults that express themselves in the young basalts at the surface as the discontinuous, en echelon fault segments seen throughout the study area and BFZ in general. Elevated geothermal gradients are localized along these deep-seated structures at two locations: (1) where northwest- and northeast-striking faults intersect,(2) along a very prominent northwest-striking active normal fault bounding the southwest flank of Glass Butte.
High average heat flow and elevated average geothermal gradients across the High Lava Plains, and the presence of hydrothermal alteration motivated geothermal resource exploration at Glass Buttes. Temperature gradient drilling by Phillips Petroleum and others between 1977-1981 to depths of up to 600 m defined a local geothermal anomaly underlying the Glass Buttes volcanic complex with a maximum gradient of 224 °C/km.
Stratigraphic constraints indicate that near-surface hydrothermal alteration associated with mercury ores ceased before 4.70±0.27 Ma, and is likely associated with the 6.49±0.03 Ma rhyolite eruptions in the eastern part of Glass Buttes. The modern thermal anomaly is not directly related to the pre-4.70±0.27 Ma hydrothermal system; rather it is likely a result of deep fluid circulation along major extensional faults in the area.