An Epigenetic Origin for the Telfer Gold Deposit, Western Australia
Published:January 01, 1989
Nicola M. Goellnicht, David I. Groves, Neal J. Mcnaughton, Gorol Dimo, 1989. "An Epigenetic Origin for the Telfer Gold Deposit, Western Australia", The Geology of Gold Deposits: The Perspective in 1988, Reid R. Keays, W. R. H. Ramsay, David I. Groves
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Middle to upper Proterozoic marine sedimentary successions of the Paterson province host gold-copper mineralization in quartz sulfide reefs at Telfer, the largest single producing gold mine in Australia during 1987. The origin of Telfer is controversial: most previous models have emphasized the very continuous, stratiform-strata-bound nature of the auriferous Middle Vale reef and postulated a syngenetic exhalative origin. However, recent deeper mining and drilling of hypogene ore provides evidence that Telfer is an epigenetic deposit.
Reconnaissance data suggest that northwest-trending elongate domes in the Paterson province (including the Main and West domes which host the Telfer gold deposits) formed during a noncoaxial deformation event. Veins associated with mineralization form probable conjugate sets, possibly controlled by later coaxial deformation. Widespread bedding-plane slip and dilation was synchronous with vein formation, resulting in the preferential development of laterally extensive concordant veins and mineralized reefs within less competent siltstone units, either during or after the late stages of doming.
The Middle Vale reef hosts most of the gold mineralization, and the highest grade ore is spatially coincident with zones of highest vein density in both its footwall and hanging wall. Economic gold mineralization higher in the stratigraphy is in strata-bound horizons and vein stockworks, hosted by pervasively altered sandstones and siltstones. Field observations suggest that at least part of the Middle Vale reef consists of subconcordant quartz sulfide veins. Textural studies suggest that most of the sulfides within the reef are epigenetic and replace carbonate horizons and calcareous mudstones and siltstones, which locally contain carbonaceous material. Rounded aggregates of fine-grained, well-crystallized pyrite within a thin laminated interval at the top of the reef have anomalous geochemistry and provide the only evidence for probable syngenetic pyrite within the mine sequence.
A number of granitoids intruded the middle to upper Proterozoic succession late in its tectono-magmatic history. A Pb-Pb mineral isochron for one of these, the Mount Crofton Granite, gives an age of 690 ± 48 Ma. The Pb isotope compositions of ore-associated sulfides in discordant veins and the Middle Vale reef at Telfer, and skarns at two other prospects, are heterogeneous and dissimilar to that shown by most volcanogenic sulfide ores. The Pb isotope sulfide data are best explained by derivation of most of the Pb from the host rock (or basinal brines), with some contribution from a magmatic source such as the Mount Crofton Granite.
Fluid inclusions from quartz in veins and the Middle Vale reef contain very complex saline and CO2-rich fluids that homogenize between 225° and 440°C: salinities range between 21 and 54 equiv wt percent NaCl. Daughter minerals include halite, Fe-bearing calcite, sylvite (?), and dawsonite. Fluid inclusion data are indicative of mixing of hot, very high salinity (magmatic) fluids with cooler, lower salinity (basinal or meteoric) waters with liberation of CC2 during replacement of carbonate host rocks.
Telfer is reinterpreted to be an epigenetic vein-hosted replacement deposit in which gold mineralization was controlled by both structure and composition of the host rocks. Hot, saline fluids introduced Cu and Au during late deformation and granitoid emplacement, but the source of the Au is not yet established.
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The Geology of Gold Deposits: The Perspective in 1988
When the price of gold rose from about $200 (U.S.) an ounce in 1979 to nearly $700 an ounce by the end of the same year, the gold rush of the 1980s was under way. Gold production in the western world rose dramatically; from 1981 to 1986 production increased by 300 to 1,282 metric tons per year. Annual production may reach 1,500 to 1,600 metric tons by 1990 (Woodall, 1988). The major contributors to the increased stream of gold have been Australia, Canada, Brazil, and the United States together with other circum-Pacific countries. The increased price of gold and new methods of extraction have allowed many older deposits to be reopened, but the most important factor has been the high success level of exploration. This success has resulted in large part from the application of new genetic models and from the development of new exploration techniques.
There are hundreds of thousands of reported gold occurrences around the world. The majority are alluvial placers, but large numbers of bedrock occurrences have also been discovered. Most of these occurrences prove to be very small and are relatively unimportant in the overall world production level. Most mined gold has come from a small number of giant deposits, which were found by prospectors. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the discovery of giant deposits in the future will involve more than the sharp eyes and persistence of the old prospector. The use of sound geologic principles, and exploration programs based on those principles, is what the future holds. An example can be seen in the successful search for gold deposits in the South Pacific. There, exploration models have been based on principles developed in the study of modern geothermal systems. Giant deposits such as Lihir and Porgera have been the reward. Another example is the giant copper-gold-uranium deposit at Olympic Dam, South Australia, discovered beneath 300 m of cover using an exploration program based on models developed by Western Mining Corporation geologists for Zambian copper belt-type deposits.
Gold deposits are widely dispersed throughout many geologic settings and in virtually all kinds of rocks, but they do not seem to have formed at a uniform rate throughout geologic history. On the contrary, two very distinct metallogenic periods have been defined. The first is the Archean era, when most of the great deposits in greenstone belts were formed and the vast Witwatersrand basin deposits in