The abundance of Ru in chromite has been suggested as an indicator of sulfide liquid saturation in komatiites. The komatiite magma-derived Archean Coobina intrusion is known to be barren in terms of sulfide mineralization. Therefore, the Coobina intrusion can serve as a useful case study to test the applicability of Ru abundance in chromite as a potential indicator for sulfide mineralization, as well as for better understanding the PGE-chromite association in general.
The Coobina intrusion is a highly deformed layered intrusion interpreted to be a flared dike. It contains multiple massive chromitite seams that have been recently mined for metallurgical-grade chromite. In this study, 18 samples from chromitite seams throughout this intrusion are investigated for their whole-rock platinum group element (PGE) contents, which are compared to their chromite mineral chemistry (including PGE content), the platinum group mineral (PGM) mineralogy, and Re-Os isotope systematics. Each sample has a similar chromite major and minor element chemistry, but a unique trace element signature, even within the same seam. In general, there are higher concentrations of Ru (>300 ppb) within chromite in the southeast (toward the feeder dike) and lower concentrations (<50 ppb Ru) in the northwest. At a sample scale, Ru in the whole rock and Ru in solid solution in the chromite are inversely correlated, while Ir shows a positive correlation between the whole rock and chromite mineral chemistry, indicating differing partitioning behaviors within the iridium-group PGE (IPGE = Os, Ir, Ru). The inverse correlation between Ru in solid solution within chromite and Ru in whole-rock chromitite suggests that, for seams with high Ru in whole rock, Ru is occurring within separate PGM phases. This is supported by the observation that the samples with high whole-rock Ru also have a high number of visible metal alloy and/or PGM inclusions. Although these inclusions are not necessarily Ru-rich phases, their presence suggests that there is a preference for these samples to form nuggets, which may restrict Ru partitioning into the chromite crystal structure. We suggest that the low Ru values in the Coobina chromite are a result of transient sulfide saturation. The Re-Os isotopic composition of the Coobina chromitite is chondritic [γ187Os(3.189 Ga) = −0.63 ± 0.21] and is consistent with derivation of the Coobina parental magma from the convecting upper mantle source, providing evidence for the mantle origin of the Coobina PGE inventory.
If using chromite as a detrital indicator mineral for magmatic sulfide exploration, it must be kept in mind that transient sulfide saturation within chromitite seams may give a false positive signature.