Gold-bearing quartz reefs commonly show extremely erratic and unpredictable grade variation, although gross geological continuity may be good. This type of variation is often described as being nuggety or having a high nugget effect and can be measured quantitatively using the semi-variogram. Understanding of geological features such as reef texture and structure will provide improved models for the interpretation of assay data, drill core descriptions, etc. In this paper, a case study from the quartz-hosted gold occurrences in the Gwynfynydd mine, United Kingdom, is described. The work provides a starting point for models of lateral variation and demonstrates the types of structural and textural features that may be sought to give clues to the prediction of gold distribution in similar deposits.
Gold deposition at Gwynfynydd is primarily associated with the reef footwall. The host veins form a discrete group of structures that may have been emplaced early in the sequence of quartz veins forming the reef. This potentially exposes them to a maximum number of dissection events during repeat dilations of the lode. Gold was deposited in the local porosity at extreme concentrations, equivalent to kg/t grades, when the host fissure had become filled with a porous framework of crystalline quartz and sulfides. Distribution of porosity varied laterally along the vein as the result of the formation of clump-like growths of minerals from the vein walls. The growth style is relevant to the distribution of gold although it may not be relevant to the occurrence of gold in a particular vein. The preservation of pores with some connectivity late in the vein fill sequence may be important in permitting continued but slow fluid flows. This facilitates effective fluid reaction with wall rock-derived methane, thus changing the relative rates of gold and quartz deposition in favor of gold.
The textural studies explain the first-order control of nugget distribution at Gwynfynydd but do not allow for prediction and optimization of the resource estimation process. This is principally because of the very low geological continuity and poor predictability of the high-grade pockets. Nonetheless, the work does provide a clear geological explanation for the erratic nature of the gold. It indicates textures and structures that can be used to determine geological continuity of the gold-bearing elements within the gross reef envelope.