Many fluid inclusion studies have been carried out in the Irish Midlands basin ore field (Lower Carboniferous) since the earliest work by Ed Roedder in the late 1960s. Results show that, in the ore deposits, the total range in fluid salinity is 4 to 28 wt percent NaCl equiv but with the majority falling in the moderate-salinity range between 8 and 19 wt percent. This variability is interpreted in terms of mixing between moderate-salinity ore fluids and low-temperature brines during ore formation. The most northerly ore deposits of Navan and Abbey-town are distinct in containing fluids of both lower and higher salinity than is typical of the Waulsortian-hosted deposits farther south (Tynagh, Silvermines, Lisheen, and Galmoy). Subeconomic prospects tend to display a narrower range in salinity, mostly at the lower end of the range observed in the ore deposits. In some prospects, and on the margins of some ore deposits, evidence for dilution is observed, interpreted to reflect mixing between hydrothermal fluids and unmodified seawater. This process is inferred to be unfavorable for mineralization.
Homogenization temperatures, a reasonable proxy for true trapping temperatures in the ore field, range from 70° to 280°C but with the majority falling between 130° and 240°C. There is no evidence for systematic stretching or leakage of inclusions related to the postentrapment heating implied by elevated thermal maturity indicators. The highest temperatures are observed in the Waulsortian-hosted systems, with peak temperatures of ~280°C supported by local, high-grade Cu and Ni mineralization. In the Navan and Abbeytown deposits, lower temperature fluids appear to have been more prevalent. The subeconomic prospects formed over essentially the same temperature range as the ore deposits (90°–270°C), with the exception of the morphologically and texturally distinct Mississippi Valley-type (MVT) systems in the region (e.g.,, Kinnitty, Harberton Bridge) that formed at lower temperatures (50°–100°C).
Similar hydrothermal fluids to those recorded in both deposits and prospects are widely observed in dolomite (and sometimes calcite) cements within Courceyan-Arundian-age rocks, indicating that hydrothermal fluid activity occurred over an extremely large area (>30,000 km2) and probably over an extended time period. There is a broad regional division in fluid properties, suggesting that the northwestern and southeastern provinces, separated by the trace of the Iapetus suture zone, may represent partly decoupled, large-scale flow regimes. Up to three, low-temperature brine types are also recorded by cements in the host-rock sequence, indicating that a complex range of evaporation and fluid-rock interaction processes were ongoing in the shallow basin succession during the period of hydrothermal activity.
Halogen data show that fluids involved in mineralization were originally seawater-derived brines, produced by evaporation to varying degrees. Relatively high temperature, basement-interacted hydrothermal fluids were derived from partially evaporated seawater (molar Cl/Br = 559–825). Their compositions can be explained by dolomitization in the Carboniferous succession prior to circulation to depth; alkali exchange, reduction, and metal-leaching from the lower Paleozoic basement; and mixing with low-temperature brines that locally penetrated the upper parts of the basement rock package. Fertile ore fluids appear to be characterized by higher δ18O (+7 to +9‰), lower δD (−25 to −45‰) and much higher metal contents than otherwise similar fluids sampled in basement-hosted feeder veins distal to deposits. This may reflect highly efficient metal scavenging in deeper and/or higher temperature reaction zones that underlie the principal deposits. In the ore deposits, these fluids mixed with Br-enriched bittern brines (Cl/Br ~290) produced by evaporation of Carboniferous sea-water past halite saturation. It is inferred that bittern brine generation occurred in the shallow marine shelf regions in the footwalls to the synsedimentary fault systems that controlled the localization of mineralization. These brines then migrated into hanging-wall depressions where they ponded within permeable sediments and became enriched in H2S via bacteriogenic sulfate reduction. The coincidence of structurally controlled, high-temperature reaction zones, brine-producing footwalls, and hanging-wall traps, with bacterial blooms above upwelling plumes of hydrothermal fluids, can be interpreted as a self-organizing system that locally converged on ore-forming conditions. Understanding the first-order structural control of the ore systems will therefore be critical for predicting new deposits.
The Irish ore field presents arguably the best database available on the thermal and chemical characteristics of hydrothermal fluids involved in sediment-hosted ore genesis. The system shares much of the variety and complexity observed in other intracratonic basin-hosted Zn-Pb(-Ba) ore districts. This includes the coexistence of contrasting styles of mineralization that are typically observed in the more distal and platform-marginal parts of the basinal environment. The thermal and chemical fluid heterogeneity observed is typical of modern intracratonic basin systems and should be expected in large paleohydrothermal systems where recharge of surface-derived fluids is involved.