Zn-Cu-Pb vanadate ores (descloizite, mottramite, and vanadinite) in the Otavi Mountainland, Namibia, once were considered the greatest vanadium deposits in the world, with resources estimated at several million tons of vanadium ore. The deposits, now mostly exhausted, occurred in collapse breccias and solution cavities related to a karstic network associated with the post-Gondwana land surfaces in carbonate rocks of the Neoproterozoic Otavi Group, which already contained primary sulfide orebodies. Although a supergene, post-Damaran origin has been generally accepted, the timing and genesis of this mineralization style remains controversial. Mottramite and Cu descloizite are particularly abundant around Cu sulfide deposits (Tsumeb type), whereas descloizite occurs in the areas surrounding primary sphalerite-willemite orebodies (Berg Aukas type). The V deposits the Otavi Mountainland represent a special low-temperature, weathering-related, non-sulfide ore type, also fairly widespread in other areas of southern Africa (e.g., Zambia, Angola).

Here we describe the geologic setting of the main V deposits and their ore mineralogy, present some comprehensive major and trace element data for the vanadate ore minerals and gangue carbonates, as well as fluid inclusion microthermometry, O, C, Sr, and Pb isotope analyses, and direct (U-Th)/He descloizite thermochronometry. The vanadates are considered to have formed during a late phase in the depositional history of the post-Damaran supergene ores. Calcite and dolomite gangue are paragenetically coeval with the vanadates, occurring with the vein- and breccia-related ores and as cement in the deeper parts of the recent karst infills. The acidic conditions of sulfide alteration, coupled with a low Eh caused by the influence of organic matter, could have been favorable for vanadate precipitation. Geochemical results and isotope data indicate that most vanadate deposits were formed at temperatures of ~40° to 50°C by meteoric waters interacting with Neo-proterozoic shales, carbonates, and related primary sulfide ores, which were subjected to multiple weathering events in a karst environment.

The age of most deposits appears to be generally confined to the Tertiary, with a distinct period of descloizite formation dated at 24 to 33 Ma. The V ores are genetically related to post-Gondwanan erosional episodes, controlled by tectonomorphological evolution following rifting phases in the Atlantic realm and spanning the period from the end of the Cretaceous to Pleistocene.

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