Abstract

The 3.33 to 3.26 Ga Mendon Formation in the Palaeoarchaean Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa, forms the uppermost unit of the Onverwacht Group. It is dominated by ultramafic volcanic rocks interbedded with thin layers of cherty sediments that show pervasive alteration, including widespread serpentinisation, silicification and chert and quartz veining. The BARB4 drill core of the ICDP Barberton drilling project exposes a unique section through the Mendon Formation in the Manzimnyama Syncline. The komatiites are pervasively altered to an assemblage comprising quartz, chlorite, carbonate, talc, biotite, and, locally, plagioclase, K-feldspar, muscovite, amphibole, stilpnomelane and ankerite. The overlying sediments are made up of banded iron formations and rare beds of siliciclastic rocks. Though the altered komatiites are pervasively silicified, SiO2 contents do not exceed 58 wt.%, and their major and trace element geochemistry is similar to other komatiitic rocks of the Mendon Formation, particularly those of the M2v-member.

Quartz veins and, less commonly, quartz-carbonate and quartz-carbonate-plagioclase veins are found throughout the core. Overall, composition and texture of the veins differ from primary and early diagenetic veins found in silicified komatiites elsewhere in the Barberton greenstone belt. In the BARB4 drill core, the veins are generally coarse-grained, and the immediate wall rocks are locally foliated along the vein margins. In addition, the δ18O values of vein quartz range from 14.1 to 15.3‰, significantly lower than the values typically found in veins on the modern seafloor that formed during low temperature hydrothermal seafloor alteration (~22 to 32‰).

Fluid inclusions in vein quartz are homogeneous two-phase (L+V) aqueous inclusions that occur in trans- and intragranular trails and clusters. Intragranular and isolated fluid inclusions have a similar homogenisation temperature (Th) of 130 to 200°C, with most data ranging between 145 and 175°C. Salinities cluster in three different groups of high (20 to 27wt.% NaCl equiv.), medium (10 to 15wt.% NaCl equiv.) and low salinity (0.3 to 1.5wt.% NaCl equiv.). The composition and microthermometric characteristics of the fluid inclusions analysed within the drill core show similarities to those found in quartz veins in silicified komatiites of the Mendon Formation, which are interpreted to have been entrapped during metamorphism. P-T calculations based on fluid inclusion microthermometry reveal conditions of 230 to 400 MPa and 250 to 400°C. Similar conditions of 240 to 270°C have been obtained using oxygen isotope thermometry, assuming a metamorphic fluid with a δ18O value of 6‰. Collectively, the δ18O values, together with the texture and composition of the veins, are interpreted to indicate a metamorphic origin of the veins. The presence of high salinity inclusions indicates the occurrence of a highly saline fluid that locally mixed with the dominant lower salinity fluids. The high salinity might have been derived from fluid circulation through evaporites.

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