Abstract

Some of the textural features of mesothermal gold-quartz veins may be best explained by the initial precipitation of amorphous silica gel (colloid), which subsequently crystallizes to quartz. This can occur in brittle-ductile shear zones where a significant fluid-pressure drop occurs during stick-slip failure. Such a process rapidly supersaturates the hydrothermal fluid with respect to amorphous silica, which precipitates instead of quartz, owing to favorable kinetics. Depressurization also commonly leads to fluid unmixing and destabilization of soluble gold complexes. However, the presence of colloidal silica can stabilize gold colloid, allowing further transport of particulate gold in suspension in the hydrothermal fluid. Silica gel would be highly unstable under mesothermal conditions and would undergo rapid syneresis and crystallization to form quartz; solid impurities would tend to be expelled toward grain boundaries. This model can account for the primary anhedral aggregate textures typical of mesothermal quartz veins, the concentration of gold along grain boundaries and the formation of discrete gold nuggets, and the rare occurrence of low-order silica polymorphs and relict spheroidal structures. The transport of gold in colloidal form may be one reason for the frequently consistent bulk grade distribution in gold-quartz vein systems over many hundreds of metres (in some cases kilometres) of depth. In addition, the formation of charged colloidal particles may help to explain the attraction of gold grains to specific mineral surfaces.

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