Skip to Main Content
Book Chapter

Linkages between Volcanotectonic Settings, Ore-Fluid Compositions, and Epithermal Precious Metal Deposits

By
Richard H. Sillitoe
Richard H. Sillitoe
27 West Hill Park, Highgate Village, London N6 6ND, England
Search for other works by this author on:
Jeffrey W. Hedenquist
Jeffrey W. Hedenquist
99 Fifth Avenue, Suite 420, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5P5, Canada
Search for other works by this author on:
Published:
January 01, 2005

Abstract

Epithermal Au and Ag deposits of both vein and bulk-tonnage styles may be broadly grouped into high-, intermediate-, and low-sulfidation types based on the sulfidation states of their hypogene sulfide assemblages. The high- and low-sulfidation types may be subdivided using additional parameters, particularly related igneous rock types and metal content.

Most high-sulfidation deposits are generated in calc-alkaline andesitic-dacitic arcs characterized by near-neutral stress states or mild extension, although a few major deposits also occur in compressive arcs characterized by the suppression of volcanic activity. Rhyolitic rocks generally lack appreciable high-sulfidation deposits. Highly acidic fluids produced the advanced argillic lithocaps that presage high-sulfidation mineralization, which itself is due to higher pH, moderate- to low-salinity fluids. Similar lithocaps in the Bolivian Sn-Ag belt, some mineralized with Ag and Sn, accompany reduced, ilmenite series magmatism.

Intermediate-sulfidation epithermal deposits occur in a broadly similar spectrum of andesitic-dacitic arcs but commonly do not show such a close connection with porphyry Cu deposits as do many of the high-sulfidation deposits. However, igneous rocks as silicic as rhyolite are related to a few intermediate-sulfidation deposits. These deposits form from fluids spanning broadly the same salinity range as those responsible for the high-sulfidation type, although Au-Ag, Ag-Au, and base metal-rich Ag-(Au) subtypes reveal progressively higher ore-fluid salinities.

Most low-sulfidation deposits, including nearly 60 percent of the world's bonanza veins, are associated with bimodal (basalt-rhyolite) volcanic suites in a broad spectrum of extensional tectonic settings, including intra-, near-, and back-arc, as well as postcollisional rifts. Some low-sulfidation deposits, however, accompany extension-related alkaline magmatism, which, unlike the bimodal suites, is capable of generating porphyry Cu deposits. Extensional arcs characterized by active andesitic-dacitic volcanism do, however, host a few low-sulfidation deposits. Low-sulfidation deposits genetically linked to bimodal volcanism are formed from extremely dilute fluids, whereas modestly saline contributions account for the low-sulfidation deposits in alkaline centers.

Early lithocap-forming and high-sulfidation fluids, as well as low-sulfidation fluids in deposits associated with alkaline igneous rocks, display clear evidence for a close genetic relationship to magmatism and, although the linkage is less intimate, late high-sulfidation fluids responsible for much of the Au introduction along with similar intermediate-sulfidation fluids also seem to owe much to their magmatic parentage. Where ascending intermediate-sulfidation fluids enter lithocaps, they evolve to high-sulfidation fluids. Eventual neutralization and lowering of sulfidation state by wall-rock interaction can convert high- back to inter-mediate-sulfidation fluids, as confirmed by both spatial and paragenetic transitions from high- to interme-diate-sulfidation mineralization. In contrast, low-sulfidation fluids other than those of alkaline affiliation lack such clear-cut connections to magmatism, although Giggenbach's work on the geothermal fluids associated with the Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand suggests that a deep magmatic source different from that of fluids in andesitic arc terranes is probable. In addition, at least in some regions, there appears to be a correlation between the reduced sulfide assemblages of low-sulfidation deposits and the reduced nature of the volcanic rocks with which they are associated. Therefore, it may be argued that the defining characteristics of epithermal deposits are related directly to their magmatic roots, notwithstanding the existence of important unanswered questions, especially regarding the source of low-sulfidation fluids.

This review puts forward several exploration guidelines for epithermal precious metal deposits. Exploration activity in andesitic-dacitic arcs should be restricted to high- and potentially related intermediate-sulfidation deposits containing Au and/or Ag, whereas a variety of rift-related bimodal suites and convergent-margin alkaline rocks offer the prime environments for Ag-deficient, low-sulfidation Au deposits (Ag/Au <∼15). Bonanza Au veins are more likely to be of the low-sulfidation type and to be discovered at relatively shallow paleodepths in bimodal rift settings, where rhyolitic and/or basaltic rocks may be proximal to Au ore. Even tholeiitic basalts in emergent mid-ocean ridge or hot-spot settings might possess underappreciated epithermal Au potential. Subaerial extensions to some volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VMS) belts may possess low-sulfidation Au potential because of the broadly similar volcanotectonic settings for both deposit types. The reduced, ilmenite series volcanic rocks of the Bolivian Sn-Ag belt are unfavorable for epithermal Au. Deficiency of volcanic rocks in epithermal provinces is typical of highly compressive arcs (high- and intermediate-sulfidation deposits) and some rifts swamped by fluviolacustrine sedimentation with silica sinter occurrences (low-sulfidation deposits). In contrast to high- and intermediate-sulfidation deposits, exploration for low-sulfidation Au deposits, even where exposed, may be hampered by the visually subtle nature of many outcropping examples.

You do not currently have access to this article.

Figures & Tables

Contents

Special Publications of the Society of Economic Geologists

Volcanic, Geothermal, and Ore-Forming Fluids: Rulers and Witnesses of Processes within the Earth

Stuart F. Simmons
Stuart F. Simmons
Search for other works by this author on:
Ian Graham
Ian Graham
Search for other works by this author on:
Society of Economic Geologists
Volume
10
ISBN electronic:
9781629490342
Publication date:
January 01, 2005

GeoRef

References

Related

Citing Books via

Close Modal
This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal