Abstract

Uranium deposit types have evolved considerably from the Archean to the Present. The major global drivers were (1) change of geotectonic conditions during the Late Archean, (2) strong increase of atmospheric oxygen from 2.4 to 2.2 Ga, and (3) development of land plants during the Silurian. Other significant variations of uranium deposit types are related to unique conjunctions of conditions such as those during phosphate sedimentation in the Cretaceous. Earth’s uranium fractionation mechanisms evolved through four major periods. The first, from 4.55 and 3.2 Ga, corresponds to formation of a thin essentially mafic crust in which the most fractionated trondheimite-tonalite-granodiorite (TTG) rocks attained uranium concentrations of at most a few parts per million. Moreover, the uranium being essentially hosted in refractory accessory minerals and free oxygen being absent, no uranium deposit could be expected to have formed during this period. The second period, from about 3.1 to 2.2 Ga, is characterized by several widespread pulses of highly fractionated potassic granite strongly enriched in U, Th, and K. Late in this period peraluminous granite was selectively enriched in U and to a lesser extent K. These were the first granite and pegmatite magmas able to crystallize high-temperature uraninite. The erosion of these granitic suites liberated thorium-rich uraninite which would then be concentrated in placer deposits along with pyrite and other heavy minerals (e.g., zircon, monazite, Fe-Ti oxides) within huge continental basins (e.g., Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Bind River, Canada). The lack of free oxygen at that time prevented oxidation of the uraninite which formed the oldest economic uranium deposit types on Earth, but only during this period. The third period, from 2.2 to 0.45 Ga, records increased oxygen to nearly the present atmospheric level. Tetravalent uranium from uraninite was oxidized to hexavalent uranium, forming highly soluble uranyl ions in water. Uranium was extensively trapped in reduced epicontinental sedimentary successions along with huge quantities of organic matter and phosphates accumulated as a consequence of biological proliferation, especially during the Late Paleoproterozoic. A series of uranium deposits formed through redox processes; the first of these developed at a formational redox boundary at about 2.0 Ga in the Oklo area of Gabon. All known economically significant uranium deposits related to Na metasomatism are about 1.8 Ga in age. The high-grade, large tonnage unconformity-related deposits also formed essentially during the Late Paleoproterozoic to early Mesoproterozoic. The last period (0.45 Ga-Present) coincided with the colonization of continents by plants. The detrital accumulation of plants within continental siliciclastic strata represented intraformational reduced traps for another family of uranium deposits that developed essentially only during this period: basal, roll front, tabular, and tectonolithologic types. However, the increased recognition of hydrocarbon and hydrogen sulfide migration from oil or gas reservoirs during diagenesis suggests potential for sandstone-hosted uranium deposits to be found within permeable sandstone older than the Silurian. Large uranium deposits related to high-level hydrothermal fluid circulation and those related to evapotranspiration (calcretes) are only known during this last period of time, probably because of their formation in near-surface environments with low preservation potential.

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