This study examines field portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) data for unsieved B- and C-horizon soil samples from two contrasting Au exploration programs in northern Canada and compares them to laboratory results from sieved samples to determine if a minimalist approach to sample preparation, equipment calibration and analysis produces results that are adequate for exploration purposes.

The collection of 14 651 residual soil samples on detailed grids at the Whiskey Au project in the Black Hills of the Yukon Territory, Canada during the 2011 field season allows a comparison of pXRF data from unsieved samples with inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) data from the <100-µm grain size fraction digested in aqua regia. XRF data were generated on two devices: an Innov-X Delta handheld and a Niton FXL desk-top unit. Data for selected elements from the pXRF units show trends in gridded percentile plots comparable to the ICP-MS data, although the continuity of these trends reflects the degree to which the pathfinder element concentrations exceed the lower orders of detection. Acceptable merged gridded images for As and Cu from the two devices were generated without data levelling, whereas the Pb, Mo and Ni data require leveling prior to gridding in order to provide a reasonable fit to the laboratory data. Data for elements that occur in concentrations close to the lower limit of detection by pXRF, such as Sb, may provide some useful information but must be used with caution. Data for Fe also show a poor correlation, possibly due to heterogeneity of Fe in the samples, as well as due to incomplete digestion of all Fe-bearing minerals in some samples using an aqua regia digestion.

A total of 680 till samples collected from regional and detailed sampling grids on the Kiyuk Lake Au property in southern Nunavut, Canada during the 2012 field season were analysed by pXRF and also by ICP-MS following an aqua regia digestion. pXRF data were generated on an Innov-X Delta using unsieved samples for comparison with ICP-MS data from the <70-µm grain size fraction. The pathfinder element As shows good agreement with the laboratory data, whereas Ni, Mo and Sb data give poor matches due to proximity of the data to the lower orders of detection by pXRF.

The use of pXRF data on soil samples with no sample preparation other than drying and no instrument calibration is a robust approach for Au exploration using particular elements, such As and Cu, provided the data are monitored for consistency. Even greater compatibility between pXRF and laboratory data would be expected where sample preparation and site-specific calibrations are implemented. Other pathfinder elements for Au, including W, Sb, Bi, Ag and Te, as well as Au itself, typically occur at levels in soil either close to or below the lower order of detection of the current generation of field-portable analytical devices. The use of pXRF in Au exploration allows for quick decision-making and provides near-real time sampling guidance in the field where ‘fit for purpose’ data for suitable pathfinder and lithologically-controlled elements can be obtained.

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