Analyses of sphalerite samples from shale-hosted massive sulfide and stratigraphically underlying vein breccia deposits in the Red Dog district in northern Alaska show a range of δ66Zn values from zero to 0.60 per mil. The lowest values are observed in the vein breccia deposits, and the stratigraphically overlying (but structurally displaced) shale-hosted massive sulfide deposits show a systematic trend of increasing δ66Zn values from south to north (Main-Aqqaluk-Paalaaq-Anarraaq). The δ66Zn values are inversely correlated with sphalerite Fe/Mn ratio and also tend to be higher in low Cu sphalerite, consistent with precipitation of lower δ66Zn sphalerite closer to the principal hydrothermal fluid conduits. The most likely control on isotopic variation is Rayleigh fractionation during sulfide precipitation, with lighter zinc isotopes preferentially incorporated in the earliest sphalerite to precipitate from ore fluids at deeper levels (vein breccias) and close to the principal fluid conduits in the orebodies, followed by precipitation of sulfides with higher δ66Zn values in shallower and/or more distal parts of the flow path. There is no systematic variation among the paragenetic stages of sphalerite from a single deposit, suggesting an isotopically homogeneous zinc source and consistent transport-deposition conditions and/or dissolution-reprecipitation of earlier sphalerite without significant fractionation. Decoupled Zn and S isotope compositions are best explained by mixing of separate metal- and sulfur-bearing fluids at the depositional site. The results confirm that Zn isotopes may be a useful tracer for distinguishing between the central and distal parts of large hydrothermal systems as previously suggested and could therefore be of use in exploration.

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