The wide-reef facies of the Merensky Reef in the eastern part of the western lobe of the Bushveld Complex was sampled in order to better resolve otherwise spatially constrained variation in highly siderophile elements across this geological unit. The platinum group element mineralogy and whole-rock highly siderophile element concentrations were measured across two vertical sections in close proximity. In one section, the Merensky Reef unit was bound by top and bottom platinum group elements-enriched horizons (reefs) with a well-developed pegmatoidal phase in the top third of the intrareef pyroxenite, but with neither a top nor a bottom chromitite present. The other drill core section featured a thin (<1 cm thick) chromitite layer associated with the highest platinum group element concentrations of any rock in this study as the bottom reef, but with a chromitite-absent top reef, and very poor development of the pegmatoid.
Primitive mantle-normalized profiles of the main lithological units show relatively flat, primitive mantle-like highly siderophile element abundances (Cr, V, Co, Ni, platinum group elements, Au and Cu) in the Merensky pyroxenite, with modest depletion in Ir-affiliated platinum group elements. The platinum group element-rich top and bottom reefs, and the pegmatoidal upper pyroxenites, display characteristic enrichment in the Pt-affiliated platinum group elements and undepleted Ir-affiliated platinum group elements. The leuconoritic hanging wall and footwall rocks show comparable highly siderophile element profiles, distinguished from one another by relative depletion in the Pt-affiliated platinum group elements of the footwall samples. The vertical variation in highly siderophile element abundances through both sections is characterized by low platinum group element abundances through the lower reef pyroxenite, with platinum group element, Au, and Cu ± Ni concentrations increasing through the upper pegmatoidal pyroxenite, and main enrichment peaks at the top and bottom reefs. Significant localized (centimeter-scale) zones of chalcophile metal depletion are present immediately above the top reef and below the bottom reef. In addition, a wider zone of Pt-affiliated platinum group elements (with Pd more depleted than Pt)-depletion was identified within the pegmatoidal pyroxenite around one meter below the top reef. The platinum group element mineralogy of the bottom reef consists mainly of platinum group element sulfides, with minor arsenides and antimonides. In contrast, the platinum group element mineralogy of the top reef, and the small amount of data from the intrareef pyroxenite, mainly consist of Pt-affiliated platinum group elements-Bi-tellurides. The Pt-sulfides are mainly equant, relatively coarse crystals (many grains between 50 to 100 μm2 area), contrasting with the Pt-affiliated platinum group elements-Sb-As and -Bi-Te minerals that tend be high aspect-ratio grains, occurring in veinlets or as rims on earlier-forming platinum group element phases. These Te-As-Bi-Sb compounds are closely associated with chlorite, actinolite, quartz, and chalcopyrite, consistent with secondary deposition at lower temperatures and association with aqueous fluids. A model is proposed involving the emplacement of the Merensky unit as a magma pulse into at least semi-crystallized host rock, followed by aqueous fluid saturation and local migration, combined with concentration of late magmatic fluids around the top and bottom contacts of the magma pulse. Late remobilization of Pt-affiliated platinum group elements from the zones immediately (centimeter-scale) above the top reef, and from the underlying meter or two of pyroxenite, and from the centimeters underlying the bottom reef, have added additional platinum group elements to the reefs as late platinum group elements-Te-As-Bi-Sb minerals, independent of whether or not chromite is present in the reef initially.