ABSTRACT

An orientation survey using surficial media was performed over the high-grade McArthur River unconformity-related U deposit (Saskatchewan, Canada) to test whether or not secondary dispersion of elements related to the ore body or alteration zone can be detected at the surface more than 500 m above the deposit. Organic-rich Ah-horizon soils, Fe-rich B-horizon soils, C-horizon soils, tree cores of Jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and glacially dispersed boulders of Manitou Falls Formation sandstone that host the U deposit were collected in four sampling grids near the mine site. Two of the grids overlaid the trace of the P2 fault that hosts the deposit and extends nearly to the surface, one grid overlaid both the P2 fault and one of the high-grade ore bodies (Zone 4), and one grid was located 2.5 km away from the ore body surface trace in the barren hanging wall of the P2 fault. The grid overlying the Zone 4 ore body had the highest proportion of samples with elevated U and low 207Pb/206Pb ratios, the latter indicative of radiogenic Pb from a high-U source, measured in two size fractions of Ah-horizon soils using Na pyrophosphate leach, pine tree cores using total digestion, and sandstone boulders using 2% HNO3 leach. A handful of pathfinder elements, such as As, Co, Ni, and Pb, are variably associated with the U and radiogenic Pb. Sandstone boulders with an assemblage of dravite + kaolinite ± illite, determined using shortwave infrared (SWIR) spectroscopy and matching the alteration mineralogy in the Manitou Falls Formation above the U deposit, were prevalent in the grid above the Zone 4 ore body and in the adjacent grid in the direction of glacial dispersion. A coarse fraction of the B-horizon soils, leached with 5% HNO3, highlighted the grid above the Zone 4 ore body to a lesser extent, whereas HNO3 leaches and aqua regia digests of C-horizon soil separates did not highlight the P2 fault or ore body trace due to influence by parent till mineralogy. Results of environmental monitoring at the mine site, which was active at the time of sampling, suggest that dust containing U, Pb, and radionuclides from waste rock piles and a ventilation shaft could influence A-horizon soil geochemistry near the mine site, and that U and radiogenic Pb anomalies in B- and C-horizon soils near the water table are close to a treated mine effluent discharge point. However, older trees that record elevated U and radiogenic Pb in annual rings that pre-date mining activity, and alteration mineralogy and geochemistry of boulders that are less susceptible to the influences of mining activity, add confidence that the geochemical anomaly in diverse surficial media above the Zone 4 ore body represents secondary dispersion from the underlying U deposit.

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