A subseafloor replacement-style barite and sulfide occurrence was drilled in shallow waters at the Palinuro volcanic complex, the northernmost Aeolian arc volcano in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy. Using a lander-type drilling device, 11 successful drill holes yielded a total of 13.5 m of core from a sediment-filled depression located at a water depth of 630 to 650 m. The longest continuous drill core recovered consists of 4.84 m of massive to semimassive barite and sulfides with abundant late, native sulfur overprint. Seafloor observations suggest that the hydrothermal system associated with the formation of the subseafloor barite and sulfide ore zone is still active, although black smoker activity does not occur on the seafloor.
The recovered drill core shows that the subseafloor deposit is zoned with depth. The top of the mineralized zone is comprised of a variably silicified vuggy barite-sulfide facies that shows notable polymetallic metal enrichment, while the deeper portion of the mineralized zone is dominated by massive pyrite having distinctly lower base and precious metal grades. Metal zonation of the barite and sulfide deposit is related to the evolution of the hydrothermal fluids in space and time. The barite cap and the massive pyrite present in the deeper portion of the mineralized zone appear to have formed early in the paragenesis. During the main stage of the mineralization, the barite cap was brecciated and cemented by a polymetallic assemblage of barite and pyrite with minor chalcopyrite and tetrahedrite, trace famatinite, and rare cinnabar. Lower temperature precipitates formed during the main stage of mineralization include sphalerite, galena, pyrite, opal-A, and barite, which are associated with traces of Pb-Sb-As sulfosalts such as bournonite-seligmannite, or semseyite. A distinct mineral assemblage of fine-grained anhedral enargite, hypogene covellite, chalcopyrite, and galena is commonly associated with colloform sphalerite, galena, and pyrite as a late phase of this main stage. Colloform pyrite and marcasite are the last sulfides formed in the paragenetic sequence. The deposit is interpreted to have formed from fluids having an intermediate-sulfidation state, although excursions to high- and very high sulfidation states are indicated by the presence of abundant enargite and hypogene covellite.
Laser ablation and conventional sulfur isotope analyses show that pyrite formed close to the seafloor within the zone of polymetallic metal enrichment has a variable sulfur isotope composition (δ34S = −39 to +3‰), whereas a more narrow range is observed in the massive pyrite at depth (δ34S = −10 to 0‰). Similar variations were also documented for the late native sulfur overprint. Overall, the negative sulfur isotope ratios at depth, the intermediate- to very high sulfidation conditions during mineralization, and the abundance of native sulfur suggest contributions of magmatic volatiles to the mineralizing fluids from a degassing magma chamber at depth. Biological processes are interpreted to have played a major role during late stages of ore formation.
The combination of a subseafloor replacement deposit with a massive to semimassive barite cap rock overlying massive pyrite, the intermediate- to high-sulfidation characteristics, and the strong biological influence on the late stages of mineralization are distinct from other modern seafloor massive sulfide deposits and represents a style of submarine mineralization not previously recognized in a modern volcanic arc environment. The barite and sulfide occurrence at Palinuro shares many characteristics with porphyry-related base metal veins and intermediate-sulfidation epithermal deposits, suggesting that metallogenic processes associated with arc-related magmatic-hydrothermal systems are not restricted to the subaerial environment.