Abstract

Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) image analysis is a proven method for mapping mineral and geochemical zonation associated with a variety of ore types, including orogenic Au, porphyry Cu-(Mo), porphyry-skarn, Pb-Zn-Au, and Mn systems. Only recently has this technique been applied, in a general sense, to mineral alteration mapping and exploration for Fe ore deposits hosted by banded iron formations (BIFs). For this reason, the Archean Weld Range greenstone belt that hosts the Beebyn and Madoonga Fe ore deposits has been chosen as a case study area to test the effectiveness of ASTER imaging techniques for the identification of Fe orebodies. Banded iron formations in the Weld Range district crop out as a series of parallel, 10- to 500-m-wide, <150-m-high, ENE-trending ridges that continue along strike for up to 70 km. Individual ridges of BIFs are surrounded by mafic igneous rocks, whereas felsic volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks and granitoid intrusions are exposed as rounded low-lying mounds in the northern and eastern areas of the district. All outcrop is at least moderately weathered. Thick layers of unconsolidated alluvial and colluvial sediments dominate low-lying areas. The Beebyn and Madoonga high-grade (>55 wt % Fe) iron ore deposits host Archean hypogene magnetite and specular hematite orebodies that are locally replaced by more recently formed, supergene goethite-hematite ore within several hundred meters of the present erosion surface. A common feature of all ore types hosted by BIFs is a high Fe content relative to SiO2. Consequently, all types of Fe ore in the Weld Range district are best identified by the ferric iron to silica index and the opaques to silica index, for the reason that these ASTER image products detect surfaces that are rich in (opaque) Fe oxide minerals and have a low silica abundance. Gabbro, dolerite, and basalt country rocks located within 20 m of high-grade Fe ore zones in BIFs are altered to hypogene Fe-rich chlorite and, more rarely, are altered by Fe-rich talc. These hypogene alteration zones are best detected by the ferrous iron content in MgOH minerals and carbonates and the FeOH group abundance products, which identify hypogene Fe chlorite and Fe talc. This study demonstrates that integrated remote spectral sensing techniques (ASTER, airborne hyperspectral, and radiometric) used in conjunction with geophysical surveys (aeromagnetic and gravity) are useful for district-scale exploration for Fe orebodies hosted by BIFs. The spectral sensing techniques are a rapid, cost-effective, and efficient means for generating and ranking exploration targets that are located in areas with restricted physical access.

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