Abstract

The Gossan Lead district is a 28-km-long, northeast-trending belt of discontinuous massive sulfide deposits in the Blue Ridge province of southwestern Virginia. The deposits, hosted by the Ashe Formation of late Proterozoic age, consist of strata-bound lenses and layers of massive pyrrhotite, minor chalcopyrite, sphalerite, and pyrite, and rare arsenopyrite and galena. Deposits were mined principally in the Iron Ridge and Betty Baker segments, respectively, at the southwestern and northeastern ends of the belt. Detailed mapping of the Gossan Howard, Huey, and Bumbarger pits in the Iron Ridge segment indicates that the deposits occur at one horizon and have been variously folded and brecciated after sulfide deposition. The Gossan Howard consists of a single, gently dipping lens of sulfide. The Huey deposit is complexly folded and locally contains tectonically thickened ore. The Bumbarger deposit is a lens as much as 40 m thick--the thickest known in the district. This deposit contains abundant coarse breccia fragments of wall rock around which the massive sulfide has flowed (during deformation and metamorphism), probably thickening the original deposit significantly. In the northeastern part of the district, drill holes intersect several sulfide layers that possibly are structurally repeated.The Ashe Formation in the district is a sequence of metasedimentary rocks and local conformable lenses of amphibolite and actinolite-chlorite schist. The metasedimentary rocks include metapelite, quartz-feldspar granofels (metagraywacke), and minor quartzite and carbonaceous schist, and are interpreted as marine turbidites. The amphibolites and other mafic rocks have chemical compositions similar to low Ti tholeiitic basalt, with a high Y/Nb (>10) and high average contents of Co (40 ppm), Cr (403 ppm), Ni (211 ppm), and V (247 ppm). Immobile trace element signatures (Ti-Y-Zr; Th-Hf-Ta; Ti-Cr) suggest a magmatic affinity with midocean ridge basalt (MORB); rare earth elements (REE) have low abundance levels (10X-15X chondrite), broadly flat patterns [(La/Yb) N = 0.7-1.1], and a slight depletion in the light elements similar to midocean ridge basalts. An amphibolite from a much higher stratigraphic level, south of the district, differs significantly from the mafic rocks closer to the sulfide zone in having the chemical signature of a transitional, slightly alkalic tholeiite with high TiO 2 (3.87 wt %), Fe 2 O 3 (16.4 wt %), and P 2 O 5 (0.56 wt %), low Y/Nb (3.3), and a highly fractionated rare earth element distribution [(La/Yb) N = 3.9] similar to continental basalt.Some silicate wall rocks of the deposits are mineralogically and chemically unusual, and differ substantially from the clastic metasediments of the Ashe Formation. Such rocks are composed mainly or wholly of plagioclase feldspar, biotite, chlorite, muscovite, or spessartine-rich garnet. The unusual lithologies form local strata-bound lenses in the footwall and/or hanging wall of the deposits, typically within 10 m of massive sulfide. The plagioclase rocks (3.4-7.6 wt % Na 2 O) consist largely of granoblastic albite-oligoclase (Ab (sub 78-90) ) with minor quartz and biotite; rare earth elements are highly fractionated [(La/Yb) N = 6.8-7.1] and their patterns resemble those of the quartz-feldspar granofels (metagraywacke) from the district.The biotite schists, locally monomineralic, have FeO/(FeO + MgO) = 0.5 and contain high phosphorus (1 wt % P 2 O 5 ) and fluorine (0.5 wt % F), present in fluorapatite. The chlorite schist is essentially all ripidolite; rare earth elements are highly fractionated, and have a large negative Eu anomaly. The spessartine-rich rocks (6.3-8.9 wt % MnO) are in places interlayered with the other unusual wall rocks and consist of abundant Mn-rich garnet (Sp 50 Al 23 Gr 19 Py 8 ) and minor quartz, plagioclase, pyrrhotite, and biotite. The distinctive mineralogy and chemistry of these rocks suggest that they represent metamorphosed alteration zones and/or intermixed chemical and clastic sediments.The sulfide deposits are interpreted as syngenetic in origin but modified in form by deformation which accompanied metamorphism. The great length of the mineralized district parallel to the regional strike and the flyschoid (turbidite) nature of the host rocks suggest that sedimentation and initial sulfide deposition took place in a deep, elongate marine basin or graben overlying a crustal rift zone. A rift underlying the sedimentary pile is consistent with the occurrence of mafic metavolcanic rocks of midocean ridge basalt affinity and could also have served as the feeder system for a line of hydrothermal vents on the sea floor that generated the sulfide deposits.

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