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Although generally considered a poor cousin of Au-rich deposits such as orogenic or epithermal deposits, a significant number of volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) deposits are significant repositories of Au. Several of these deposits had original Au resources exceeding 8 Moz and in some recently discovered deposits Au, not base metals, is the primary economic metal.

Although most Au in volcanic-hosted massive sulfide districts is hosted by massive sulfide lenses, recent discoveries, both on land and on the ocean floor, indicate that significant Au occurs outside of these lenses. In most deposits, Au has a metallogenic association with either Cu or Zn. When associated with Cu, Au is concentrated toward the base of the massive sulfide lens. Gold-rich deposits of this metallogenic assemblage commonly are associated with (metamorphosed) advanced argillic assemblages and are inferred to have formed from acidic, high-temperature (>300°C), oxidized fluids. These deposits have been equated to high-sulfidation epithermal deposits and may be detected using recently developed spectral techniques such as PIMA (Portable Infrared Mineral Analyzer) and airborne hyperspectral scanners.

When associated with Zn, Au is concentrated near the top of massive sulfide lenses, in some cases in baritic zones. Gold-rich deposits of this metallogenic assemblage tend to be formed from low-temperature (200° ± 50°C) and/or near-neutral fluids as indicated by fluid inclusion studies or by alteration assemblages (e.g., K feldspar or carbonate). A small number of deposits cannot be classified into the Au-Zn or Au-Cu association. In these deposits, Au is concentrated in pyritic zones that contain relatively low amounts of base metals. Moreover, a consistent relationship with Zn or Cu is not present. Although this group is small, it includes deposits such as Horne.

Mineralogically Au can occur in electrum or native gold, Au tellurides, or auriferous pyrite or arsenopyrite. In deposits of the Au-Cu association, Au tends to occur as native gold or tellurides, whereas electrum and auriferous pyrite and/or arsenopyrite is more common in the Au-Zn association. Metamorphic recrystallization tends to liberate Au held in auriferous pyrite or arsenopyrite, potentially enhancing metallurgical recoveries.

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