Sedimented hydrothermal precipitates of silica, now fine-grained quartz, are described from a Pb-Zn-bearing vein system. Their discrimination from the wall-accreted fine-grained quartz that is common in the shallow parts of epithermal systems is discussed. Local fine-grained (<0.3 mm) quartz accumulations occur in a suite of veins with otherwise normal drusiform and crustified infills. This sediment may fill the vein above chokes in steep segments (axial plugs), or form continuous layers within the footwall material where the vein is inclined at low to moderate angles. Pads of fine-grained sediment are deposited on the upwards-facing surfaces of wall-rock clasts and of drusiform crystals growing from the vein walls. The asymmetry of these deposits differentiates them from the more common symmetrical, crustified wall-lining deposits of fine-grained quartz and opaline silica, and requires a gravity-controlled, sedimentary depositional mechanism.
Thin section examination shows that much of the fine-grained quartz is present as elongate prisms. The prism habit was present soon after deposition, but it is not possible to identify unequivocally the original sedimented grains. Sedimentation of vein- and wall-rock-derived detritus is also recognized. Deposition of the fine-grained sediment accompanies normal in situ drusiform growth of quartz and other vein minerals. The mammilated and spherulitic textures associated with accretion of amorphous quartz are entirely absent from the Tyndrum veins with sedimented materials. The literature on modern hydrothermal waters and physical chemistry of silica precipitation shows that precipitates of silica suspended in hydrothermal fluids are amorphous and derived from colloidal silica. It is argued that much of the suspended silica was present as quartz at the time of deposition or was converted from amorphous silica almost immediately after deposition.
Hydrothermal sediments and their distribution potentially provide information on flow directions and velocity in veins. Plugs of sediment obstruct vertical flow and lead to local flows with large horizontal components. It is shown that sedimentation features occur in other deposits and can involve other minerals. If the features seen here can be scaled up to the size of major veins, they may result in up and downdip variations in mineral assemblages and abundances, which may affect grade.