Abstract

Magnetite-bearing granophyre and quartz dolerite are the evolved fractions of differentiated dolerite (diabase) sills and are an important host to Archean gold deposits because they are chemical traps for orogenic fluids. Despite their economic importance, there is a poor understanding of how melt composition, crystal fractionation, sill geometry, and depth of emplacement increase the volume of host rock that is most favorable for gold precipitation during orogenesis. We use drill core logging, whole-rock geochemistry, magnetic susceptibility, gold assay, and thermodynamic modeling data from 11 mineralized and unmineralized ca. 2.7 Ga differentiated dolerites in the Eastern Goldfields superterrane (Yilgarn craton, Western Australia) to better understand the influence of igneous and emplacement processes on gold prospectivity. Orogenic gold favors differentiated dolerites, derived from iron-rich parental magmas, that crystallize large volumes of magnetite-bearing quartz dolerite (>25% total thickness). Mineralized sills are commonly >150 m thick and hosted by thick and broadly coeval sedimentary sequences. Sill thickness is an important predictor for gold prospectivity, as it largely controls cooling rate and hence fractionation. The parental melts of gold-mineralized sills fractionated large amounts of clinopyroxene and plagioclase (possibly up to 50%) at depth before emplacement in the shallow crust. A second fractionation event at shallow levels (<3 km) operated both vertically and laterally, resulting in an antithetic relationship between quartz (magnetite) dolerite and cumulates (pyroxenites and peridotites). By comparison with younger mafic sills emplaced in synsedimentary basins, we argue that the geometry of these high-level sills was more irregular than the often-assumed tabular form. Any irregularities in the lower sill margin act as traps for early formed (dense) ferromagnesian minerals, now represented by pyroxene and peridotite cumulates. In contrast, irregularities in the upper sill margin trap the buoyant fractionated liquids when the sill is more crystalline, through magma flow on the scale of <1 km. Sills derived from iron-poor melts are rarely mineralized and, all else being equal, probably have to be thicker than Fe-rich sills to be similarly prospective for orogenic gold. Finally, we provide a list of quantifiable parameters that can be incorporated into an exploration program targeting differentiated dolerites that host orogenic gold.

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