Abstract

The Mt. Carlton Au-Ag-Cu deposit, northern Bowen basin, northeastern Australia, is an uncommon example of a sublacustrine hydrothermal system containing economic high-sulfidation epithermal mineralization. The deposit formed in the early Permian and comprises vein- and hydrothermal breccia-hosted Au-Cu mineralization within a massive rhyodacite porphyry (V2 open pit) and stratabound Ag-barite mineralization within volcano-lacustrine sedimentary rocks (A39 open pit). These orebodies are all associated with extensive advanced argillic alteration of the volcanic host rocks. Stable isotope data for disseminated alunite (δ34S = 6.3–29.2‰; δ18OSO4 = –0.1 to 9.8‰; δ18OOH = –15.3 to –3.4‰; δD = –102 to –79‰) and pyrite (δ34S = –8.8 to –2.7‰), and void-filling anhydrite (δ34S = 17.2–19.2‰; δ18OSO4 = 1.8–5.7‰), suggest that early advanced argillic alteration formed within a magmatic-hydrothermal system. The ascending magmatic vapor (δ34SΣS ≈ –1.3‰) was absorbed by meteoric water (~50–60% meteoric component), producing an acidic (pH ≈ 1) condensate that formed a silicic → quartz-alunite → quartz-dickite-kaolinite zoned alteration halo with increasing distance from feeder structures. The oxygen and hydrogen isotope compositions of alunite-forming fluids at Mt. Carlton are lighter than those documented at similar deposits elsewhere, probably due to the high paleolatitude (~S60°) of northeastern Australia in the early Permian. Veins of coarse-grained, banded plumose alunite (δ34S = 0.4– 7.0‰; δ18OSO4 = 2.3–6.0‰; δ18OOH = –10.3 to –2.9‰; δD = –106 to –93‰) formed within feeder structures during the final stages of advanced argillic alteration. Epithermal mineralization was deposited subsequently, initially as fracture- and fissure-filling, Au-Cu–rich assemblages within feeder structures at depth. As the mineralizing fluids discharged into lakes, they produced syngenetic Ag-barite ore. Isotope data for ore-related sulfides and sulfosalts (δ34S = –15.0 to –3.0‰) and barite (δ34S = 22.3–23.8‰; δ18OSO4 = –0.2 to 1.3‰), and microthermometric data for primary fluid inclusions in barite (Th = 116°– 233°C; 0.0–1.7 wt % NaCl), are consistent with metal deposition at temperatures of ~200 ± 40°C (for Au-Cu mineralization in V2 pit) and ~150 ± 30°C (Ag mineralization in A39 pit) from a low-salinity, sulfur- and metal-rich magmatic-hydrothermal liquid that mixed with vapor-heated meteoric water. The mineralizing fluids initially had a high-sulfidation state, producing enargite-dominated ore with associated silicification of the early-altered wall rock. With time, the fluids evolved to an intermediate-sulfidation state, depositing sphalerite- and tennantite-dominated ore mineral assemblages. Void-filling massive dickite (δ18O = –1.1 to 2.1‰; δD = –121 to –103‰) with pyrite was deposited from an increasingly diluted magmatic-hydrothermal liquid (≥70% meteoric component) exsolved from a progressively degassed magma. Gypsum (δ34S = 11.4–19.2‰; δ18OSO4 = 0.5–3.4‰) occurs in veins within postmineralization faults and fracture networks, likely derived from early anhydrite that was dissolved by circulating meteoric water during extensional deformation. This process may explain the apparent scarcity of hypogene anhydrite in lithocaps elsewhere. While the Mt. Carlton system is similar to those that form subaerial high-sulfidation epithermal deposits, it also shares several key characteristics with magmatic-hydrothermal systems that form base and precious metal mineralization in shallow-submarine volcanic arc and back-arc settings. The lacustrine paleosurface features documented at Mt. Carlton may be useful as exploration indicators for concealed epithermal mineralization in similar extensional terranes elsewhere.

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