Abstract

Gold mineralization at the Ballarat East deposit, central Victoria, Australia, is hosted in lodes that are historically known as “leather jackets.” These are quartz-dominant vein arrays related to low-displacement, W-dipping faults (≤45°) that transect the core and/or eastern limb of tight, asymmetric N-S-trending anticlines. The leather jacket lodes typically have dip extents from 5 to 65 m, widths of ≤20 m, and strike lengths up to hundreds of meters, but their along-strike continuity is disrupted by oblique, low-displacement listric faults known as “cross courses.” The gold lodes are characterized by distinct phases of sulfide paragenesis with minor gold + arsenopyrite + pyrite defining the early sulfide stage. Late-stage coarse gold was precipitated with galena + sphalerite ± pyrrhotite ± chalcopyrite (late pyrite also occurs). The gold mineralization events are linked to low-strain mineralized fracture networks, which are closely related to the final deformation stages and the amplification of the major folds enclosing the lodes. This amplification produced domal fold culminations, with plunges ≤30°, and localized minor parasitic folds with shallower plunges (≤10°). A network of dilation sites, on the W-dipping faults, preferentially developed in the cores of anticlines, particularly in zones where there are changes in strike of bedding or fault bifurcation and refraction through contrasting sandstone and interbedded packages of sandstone and shale.

Numerical three-dimensional simulations were undertaken to test our geologic observations and replicate conditions controlling the emplacement of the leather jacket lodes. Two different scenarios were investigated: first, to determine how changes in the local stress field orientation influences dilation and fluid infiltration; secondly, to test variations in fault geometry during the last stages of deformation—that is, within the final 2% of shortening, when most of the mineralized sites were created. Results show that strain and fluid flow localized along refracted sections of faults and around changes in dip, specifically on the shallower dipping sections within subvertical sandstone units. This is consistent with the observation that high-grade gold-bearing quartz is associated with localized changes in fault dip in thicker sandstone and sandstone-shale packages. There was also a component of strike-slip motion and near-field NW-to-SE or N-to-S stress fields, which can be attributed to the development of a component of out-of-plane motion during the development of fold culminations. The preferred model for the distribution of the high-grade auriferous vein arrays defining the leather jacket lodes is one of fold amplification and extension parallel to the fold axes, which produced an increasing out-of-plane relaxation. The main fluid conduits responsible for the leather jacket style of mineralization involve infiltration along steep bedding-parallel faults and veins that link up with the arrays of low-displacement W-dipping faults.

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