Abstract

More than 390 chromite grains from komatiites and komatiitic basalts from the Yilgarn craton of Western Australia and the Finnish part of the Fennoscandian Shield were analyzed using in situ laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to identify ruthenium (Ru) signatures in chromite associated with nickel sulfide-bearing rocks. Results indicate a potential method to discriminate mineralized and barren komatiite and komatiitic basalt units based on Ru concentrations in chromite and indicate potential for chromite to be used as a resistate indicator mineral in exploration for komatiite-associated nickel sulfide deposits.

Chromites from barren komatiites and komatiitic basalts display Ru concentrations mostly between ∼150 and 600 ppb. Chromites from mineralized units have distinctly lower Ru contents (<150 ppb). These results can be interpreted in terms of the much higher partition coefficient for Ru into sulfide liquid compared to that of Ru into chromite, resulting in much lower Ru concentrations in chromite where both chromite and sulfide liquid are present and competing for Ru. As a result, the Ru content of chromite can be used to determine if a komatiite melt equilibrated with a sulfide liquid during crystallization, and therefore, if a system and/or sequence is prospective for nickel sulfide mineralization.

The strength of this method compared to previous whole-rock exploration techniques derives from combining (1) the geochemical properties of a chalcophile element that records an ore-forming process while being strongly immobile during postmagmatic processes, with (2) the in situ analysis of a mineral that is generally preserved even in highly altered and mildly weathered komatiites and that is a common constituent of detrital heavy mineral samples. Chromite Ru content has potential as a prospectivity indicator, applicable to a wide range of media including bedrock, laterites, and detrital resistates heavy mineral samples.

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