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Although the currently accepted syngenetic model of ore genesis for volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) deposits was established in the 1950s and early 1960s based largely on field relationships (King and Thomson, 1953; Stanton, 1955), more detailed understanding of this deposit type has evolved mainly from more detailed paragenetic and geochemical studies. Of these detailed geochemical studies, stable isotope geochemistry has been critical in determining the origin of ore fluid components: sulfur isotope studies have been critical in determining sulfur sources, and oxygen and hydrogen isotope studies have been used to determine the relative proportions of seawater and magmatic-hydrothermal components in the ore fluids.

The purpose of this review is to summarize the impact of stable isotope geochemistry on our understanding of the genesis of VHMS deposits, and, perhaps more importantly, to assess the limitations of stable isotope data for genetic interpretations. The first part of the review will present basic definitions, introduce the concept of stable isotope fractionation, and discuss geological applications and limitations of stable isotope geochemistry. Subsequent parts will focus on hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and sulfur isotopes, which have been proven useful in genetic studies of VHMS deposits.

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