Small-scale variations in mineral chemistry, textures, and platinum group element (PGE) mineralization were investigated in the Lower and Middle Group chromitite layers LG6, LG6a, MG1, MG2, and MG2 II from vertical drill core profiles at the Thaba mine in the northwestern limb of the Bushveld Complex. We present detailed geochemical profiles of chromite composition and chromite crystal size distribution curves to shed light on the processes of chromite accumulation and textural modification as well as mineralization. Multiple samples within each layer were assayed for PGE concentrations, and the respective platinum group mineral association was determined by mineral liberation analysis (MLA).
There is strong evidence for postcumulus changes in the chromitites. The crystal size distribution curves suggest that the primary chromite texture was coarsened by a combination of adcumulus growth and textural equilibration, while compaction of the crystal mush played only a minor role. Mineral compositions were also modified by postcumulus processes, but because of the very high modal amount of chromite and its local preservation in orthopyroxene oikocrysts, that phase retained much primary information. Vertical variations of chromite composition within chromitite layers and from one layer to another do not support the idea of chromite accumulation from crystal-rich slurries or crystal settling from a large magma chamber. Instead, we favor a successive buildup of chromitite layers by repeated injections of relatively thin layers of chromite-saturated magmas, with in situ crystallization occurring at the crystal mush-magma interface. The adcumulus growth of chromite grains to form massive chromitite required addition of Cr to the layers, which we attribute to downward percolation from the overlying magma.
The PGE concentrations are elevated in all chromitite layers compared to adjacent silicate rocks and show a systematic increase upward from LG6 (avg 807 ppb Ir + Ru + Rh + Pt + Pd + Au) to MG2 II (avg 2,062 ppb). There are also significant internal variations in all layers, with enrichments at hanging and/or footwalls. The enriched nature of chromitites in PGEs compared to host pyroxenites is a general feature, independent of the layer thickness. The MLA results distinguish two principal groups of PGE mineral associations: the LG6, LG6, and MG1 are dominated by the malanite series, laurite, and PGE sulfarsenides, while the MG2 and MG2 II layers are characterized by laurite and PGE sulfides as well as Pt-Fe-Sn and PGE-Sb-Bi-Pb alloys. Differences in the PGE associations are attributed to postcumulus alteration of the MG2 and MG2 II layer, while the chromitites below, particularly LG6 and LG6a, contain a more pristine association.