Far field features of ore deposits include mineralogical, geochemical, or biological attributes that can be recognized beyond the obvious limits of the deposits. They can be primary, if formed in association with mineralization or alteration processes, or secondary, if formed from the interaction of ore deposits with the hydrosphere and biosphere. This paper examines a variety of far field features of different ore deposit types and considers novel applications to exploration and discovery.
Primary far field features include mineral and rock chemistry, isotopic or element halos, fluid pathways and thermal anomalies in host-rock sequences. Examples include the use of apatite chemistry to distinguish intrusive rocks permissive for iron oxide copper gold (IOCG) and porphyry deposits; resistate mineral (e.g., rutile, tourmaline) chemistry in exploration for volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS), orogenic gold, and porphyry deposits; and pyrite chemistry to vector toward sedimentary exhalative (sedex) deposits. Distinctive whole-rock geochemical signatures also can be recognized as a far field feature of porphyry deposits. For example, unique Sr/Y ratios in whole-rock samples, used to distinguish barren versus fertile magmas for Cu mineralization, result from the differentiation of oxidized hydrous melts. Anomalous concentrations of halogen elements (Cl, Br, and I) have been found for distances of up to 200 m away from some mineralized centers. Variations in isotopic composition between ore-bearing and barren intrusions and/or systematic vertical and lateral zonation in sulfur, carbon, or oxygen isotope values have been documented for some deposit types. Owing to the thermal aureole that extends beyond the area of mineralization for some deposits, detection of paleothermal effects through methods such as conodont alteration indices, vitrinite or bitumen reflectance, illite crystallinity, and apatite or zircon thermochronology studies also can be valuable, particularly for deposits with a low-temperature thermal history.
A number of newly investigated secondary far field features include the development of reduced columns by electrochemical processes in transported overburden, geochemical dispersion related to the expulsion of groundwater from tectonic and seismic compression, dispersion of vapor above ore deposits, and geochemical dispersion related to biological processes. Redox gradients have been found between underlying reduced and overlying oxidized environments associated with sulfide bodies, which result in mass transfer through electrochemical dispersion. Recent studies have characterized the pH, oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), and self potential (SP) in overburden overlying sulfide-hosted gold and VMS deposits. Lateral migration of metals in groundwater is well understood from normal groundwater flow, but the processes responsible for vertical mass transfer of groundwater and its dissolved components have been recognized only recently. One process, termed cyclical dilatancy pumping, expels groundwater during and after earthquake events, which can cause the redistribution of metals around deposits in some environments. Soil gases are of interest owing to their high degree of mobility through the vadose zone in transported overburden. Numerous soil gas species (CO2, O2, Hg, Rn, He, sulfur compounds, and light hydrocarbons) have been measured and interpreted as diagnostic of some buried mineral deposits, and some evidence suggests a possible link between vapor dispersion and metal enrichment in soil. Geochemical enrichment in plant material and soils through successive growth-death cycles is well established, but the important role of microorganisms is now increasingly evident. Microorganisms significantly enhance the kinetics of sulfide oxidation and influence the distribution of metals around ore deposits. The presence of metal-resistant bacteria and enhanced concentrations of sulfate-reducing bacteria in exotic overburden over buried sulfide deposits suggests that these organisms are attracted to this environment and, therefore, may be important indicators of deposits under cover.
Many of these newly recognized far field features have been documented in only a few case studies. Additional research is required to determine the scale of these features, controls on their formation, and the consistency with which they can be measured. Incorporation of methods for detecting far field features into field-based exploration programs may increase the probability of success, especially in covered terrains.