Holocene shallow (0.5–4.5 m, rarely more) and Pliocene–Pleistocene deep (>25 m) placers occur within the China tectonic depression. The shallow placers are associated with the formation of the present-day drainage valleys of the China River under permafrost conditions, and the deep ones are localized within the preglacial paleovalleys of the river basin. An integrated geological and geochemical study was carried out at ten shallow commercial placers, eight of which are classified as poorly studied and “unconventional.” Placers are considered “unconventional” based on their technological characteristics (commercial gold is small (–0.25 to +0.1 mm), thin (–0.1 mm), and micron-sized or “bound” (invisible)), geomorphologic conditions of formation, confinement to the oxidized zone of active permafrost, significant portion of fine hydrogenic gold, and several other minor features.
The formation of shallow “unconventional” placers is controlled by the conditions of active permafrost. Under aerobic conditions, suprapermafrost waters form an oxidized zone, in which iron hydroxides impart a yellowish reddish color to water-bearing rocks. Long-lived geochemical barriers (biogenic, reduction, electrochemical, sorption, and others), including gravitational differentiation, play an important role in the concentration of small and thin gold.
Alluvial deposits in Meso-Cenozoic tectonic depressions, such as the China basin, are the most promising in terms of “unconventional” placers. The main factors favoring the formation of these localities and the criteria for their assessment are large feeding sources of gold (mainly carbonaceous and sulfide) mineralization, endogenic and exogenic dispersion aureoles with thin and invisible gold; increased thickness of the suprapermafrost active layer and its temporal and spatial stability, contributing to the formation and functioning of oxidized horizons with the accumulation of ferric hydroxide and hydrogenic gold; specific morphologic varieties of hydrogenic gold, which are the fundamental criterion for primary gold mineralization with migratable metal; fine-clastic clay-rich composition of recent alluvial or alluvial-talus sediments, produced by water reworking of ancient gold-bearing weathering crusts; and development of broad floodplains filled with Holocene sediments and their junction with talus-solifluction erosional slopes.