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Book Chapter

Principles of Structural Control on Permeability and Fluid Flow in Hydrothermal Systems

By
S. F. Cox
S. F. Cox
Centre for Advanced Studies of Ore Systems, Department of Geology and Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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M. A. Knackstedt
M. A. Knackstedt
Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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J. Braun
J. Braun
Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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Published:
January 01, 2001

Abstract

Fluid pathways between metal sources and sites of ore deposition in hydrothermal systems are governed by fluid pressure gradients, buoyancy effects, and the permeability distribution. Structural controls on ore formation in many epigenetic systems derive largely from the role that deformation processes and fluid pressures play in generating and maintaining permeability within active faults, shear zones, associated fracture networks, and various other structures at all crustal levels.

In hydrothermal systems with low intergranular porosity, pore connectivity is low, and fluid flow is typically controlled by fracture permeability. Deformation-induced fractures develop on scales from microns to greater than hundreds of meters. Because mineral sealing of fractures can be rapid relative to the lifetimes of hydrothermal systems, sustained fluid flow occurs only in active structures where permeability is repeatedly renewed.

In the brittle upper crust, deformation-induced permeability is associated with macroscopic fracture arrays and damage products produced in episodically slipping (seismogenic) and aseismically creeping faults, growing folds, and related structures. In the more ductile mid- to lower crust, permeability enhancement is associated with grain-scale dilatancy (especially in active shear zones), as well as with macroscopic hydraulic fracture arrays. Below the seismic–aseismic transition, steady state creep leads to steady state permeability and continuous fluid flow in actively deforming structures. In contrast, in the seismogenic regime, large cyclic changes in permeability lead to episodic fluid flow in faults and associated fractures.

The geometry and distribution of fracture permeability is controlled fundamentally by stress and fluid pressure states, but may also be influenced by preexisting mechanical anisotropies in the rock mass. Fracture growth is favored in high pore fluid factor regimes, which develop especially where fluids discharge from faults or shear zones beneath low-permeability flow barriers. Flow localization within faults and shear zones occurs in areas of highest fracture aperture and fracture density, such as damage zones associated with fault jogs, bends, and splays. Positive feedback between deformation, fluid flow, and fluid pressure promotes fluid-driven growth of hydraulically linked networks of faults, fractures, and shear zones.

Evolution of fluid pathways on scales linking fluid reservoirs and ore deposits is influenced by the relative proportions of backbone, dangling, and isolated structures in the network. Modeling of the growth of networks indicates that fracture systems reach the percolation threshold at low bulk strains. Just above the percolation threshold, flow is concentrated along a small proportion of the total fracture population, and favors localized ore deposition. At higher strains, flow is distributed more widely throughout the fracture population and, accordingly, the potential for localized, high-grade ore deposition may be reduced.

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Contents

Reviews in Economic Geology

Structural Controls on Ore Genesis

Jeremy P. Richards
Jeremy P. Richards
volume-editor
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E3 Canada
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Richard M. Tosdal
Richard M. Tosdal
volume-editor
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E3 Canada
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Society of Economic Geologists
Volume
14
ISBN electronic:
9781629490212
Publication date:
January 01, 2001

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