Mineral exploration is increasingly taking advantage of real time techniques that dramatically reduce the costs and time taken to obtain results compared to traditional analytical methods. Portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) is now a well-established technique that is used to acquire lithogeochemical data. To date, however, benchtop scanning electron microscopes, equipped with energy dispersive systems (bSEM-EDS) have received little attention as a possible mineral exploration tool.

This study examines the utility of combining pXRF and bSEM-EDS to characterize the igneous stratigraphy and its relationship to Cu-Pd mineralization in a drill hole at the Four Dams occurrence, located within the Eastern Gabbro assemblage of the Coldwell Alkaline Complex, Canada.

The first part of this study compares field portable and laboratory techniques. Seventy-two powdered samples analysed by pXRF are compared with traditional major elements analysed by inductively coupled atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES) and trace elements by inductively coupled plasma spectrometry (ICP-MS), and the compositions of 128 olivine, clinopyroxene and plagioclase grains analysed by bSEM-EDS are compared with traditional electron microprobe data. Our results show that each portable technique yields results similar to their lab-based counterparts within the analytical capabilities and precisions of the respective instruments.

The second part presents a case study for the application of pXRF and bSEM-EDS to resolve questions related to igneous stratigraphy as an aid to mineral exploration in a complicated geological setting. A major problem for Cu-Pd exploration in the Coldwell Complex of NW Ontario is that the oxide-rich units that host Cu-Pd mineralization in the Marathon Series are petrographically similar to the barren oxide-rich units in the Layered Series. However, the mineralized units are geochemically distinctive. Our results show that the mineralized Marathon Series can be distinguished from the barren Layered Series, including oxide-rich units of both, by combinations of P2O5, Ba, Zr and V/Ti values, determined by pXRF, combined with plagioclase, olivine or clinopyroxene compositions measured by bSEM-EDS. The combination of pXRF and bSEM-EDS thus shows considerable promise as an exploration technique.

Supplementary material: Comparisons of pXRF analyses with ICP-AES, ICP-MS and IR analysis are available at http://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3291518

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