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Indicator mineralogy is used to explore for a wide variety of mineral commodities. The method utilizēs minerals which are sufficiently heavy to be readily concentrated in the laboratory, often colourful and possess other useful physical and chemical properties. The minerals also must be source specific. Some indicator minerals are true resistate minerals. The others, although less resistant, are stable in oxidized glacial drift and many non-glacial sediments. A few, such as gold grains, are silt sized but most are coarse grained. Grain size has a major impact on indicator mineral dispersal patterns in glacial drift.

The coarse-grained indicator minerals are of two main types: (1) kimberlite indicator minerals (KIMs); and (2) metamorphosed or magmatic massive sulphide indicator minerals (MMSIMs). KIMs are enriched in Mg and Cr and most MMSIMs are enriched in Mg, Mn, Al or Cr. These indicator elements cannot be diagnosed geochemically in anomalous heavy mineral concentrates because the concentrates contain other, more plentiful non-indicator minerals containing the same elements in the same chemical form. Chalcopyrite is also a very useful MMSIM but the number of surviving grains in a dispersal train is too low for detection by selective geochemical analysis.

MMSIMs are derived from three main types of base metal deposits and their associated alteration or reaction zones: (1) volcanosedimentary massive sulphides (encompassing volcanogenic, Sedex and Mississippi Valley subtypes) in medium to high grade regional metamorphic terrains; (2) skarn and greisen deposits; and (3) magmatic Ni–Cu sulphides. The variety of MMSIMs associated with Ni–Cu deposits is astonishing, apparently reflecting mineral hybridization related to assimilation of sulphurous sedimentary rocks by ultramafic magmas. Cr–diopside is one of the best indicators of fertile Ni–Cu environments although not necessarily of the actual Ni–Cu deposits.

Heavy indicator mineralogy is much more sensitive than heavy mineral geochemical analysis and offers many exploration benefits in regional exploration programs including: (1) sampling efficiencies; (2) enlargement of both the bedrock target and dispersal train; (3) coverage of a wider range of mineral commodities; (4) undiminished sensitivity in areas of overabundant non-indicator heavy minerals; (5) visual evidence of points of origin of dispersal trains; and (6) indications of the economic potential of the source mineralization. It is most effective as a reconnaissance exploration tool and is particularly well suited for testing gneissic volcanosedimentary and plutonic terranes where base and precious metal deposits are highly modified and difficult to recognize by other prospecting methods.

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