Abstract

Subseafloor replacement-style volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits are a subset of VMS deposits where sulfides have replaced unconsolidated volcanic, volcano-sedimentary, and sedimentary material. These deposits are anomalously large and are important global sources of metals. They have distinct textures at the sulfide-ore interface, including bed-by-bed replacement of sedimentary layers, and typically fill void space between unconsolidated volcaniclastic detritus or fractures in flows or intrusions. At the microscale, metalbearing sulfides have partially to fully replaced framboidal (bacteriogenic) sulfides, or the framboidal sulfides have acted as nuclei upon which additional metalliferous massive sulfide is deposited.

The textures presented are reconciled within a semipermeable interface model for replacement. In this model unconsolidated sediment, volcaniclastic rocks, or fractured coherent volcanic rocks provide a permeable to semipermeable interface that allowed ingress of cold seawater into the pore spaces of the stratigraphic sequence prior to and during lulls in hydrothermal activity. Seawater sulfate in the pore water is partially reduced by bacteria to provide reduced sulfur (H2S) as well as framboidal pyrite in the host sequence(s). The reduced sulfur and framboidal pyrite, as well as the cool pore water, provided a thermal, redox, and chemical gradient in which upwelling hydrothermal fluids interact. In such an environment rising hydrothermal fluids mix with cold water, not only at the seawater interface leading to exhalative sulfide deposition, but also in the subseafloor leading to sulfide precipitation via replacement. The upwelling hydrothermal fluids can also interact with bacterial H2S in the pore spaces of the unconsolidated material, resulting in additional subseafloor precipitation of metal sulfides. The fluids also result in replacement of framboidal pyrite nuclei pseudomorphous after the original framboidal masses. This semipermeable interface also favors enhanced zone refining, assuming the hydrothermal system is sufficiently long lived, leading to upgrading of the tenor of the sulfides with well-developed metal zoning, as observed in many ancient replacement-type deposits. Furthermore, the precipitation of a significant subseafloor sulfide mineralization results in greater trapping of metals from upwelling fluids and larger tonnage deposits with greater contained metal.

This model may also be applicable to other replacement-type deposits in broadly similar geologic and hydrothermal environments (e.g., sediment-hosted and Irish-type Zn-Pb deposits). Additional, critical tests are required to validate and refute the model and potential tests are presented herein.

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