Abstract

A thermodynamic model of boiling hydrothermal solutions is developed and applied over a wide range of physical and chemical conditions. Within the range of conditions observed in natural boiling hydrothermal systems the processes of liquid-vapor partitioning and the resultant effects on mineral solubilities are highly varied and complex. Metals that are complexed by chloride are deposited largely as a result of the decreasing proton concentration associated with CO 2 exsolution during boiling. Metal bisulfide complexes are destabilized most when the decrease in proton concentration is sluggish relative to the loss of H 2 S.Vaporization of only a few percent of a solution can decrease the proton concentration by several orders of magnitude when the CO 2 /H (super +) and CO 2 /Sigma SO 4 concentration ratios are initially high. The relationship between the proton, CO 2 , and Sigma SO 4 concentrations prior to boiling to the proton concentration after boiling is defined explicitly by a few simple equations. These equations along with the solubilities of calcite and anhydrite constitute the chemical boundary conditions for significant mineral deposition by boiling. Typical hydrothermal fluids lose most of their volatile components to the vapor phase and most of their metals to mineral phases by the time boiling has proceeded to the point where the volumes of the vapor and liquid phases are equal.Physical variables such as the heat budget and the restrictions on the partitioning of mass between liquid and vapor, although significant, are subordinate to the compositional variables in determining the chemical evolution of a boiling hydrothermal solution. Mineral deposition is most vigorous when the volatile components partition from the solution to the vapor phase in a manner resembling perfect fractional (Rayleigh) distillation. As temperature decreases, the efficiency of boiling for depositing metals from solution increases, and the amount of metals in solution typically decreases such that the net effect of boiling is most favorable for ore formation at temperatures around 300 degrees C. Mineral and metal complex stoichiometries in combination with the relative volatilities of CO 2 and H 2 S determine the general sequence of mineral deposition during boiling. These major variables, many other minor variables, and the multiple interactions thereof are accounted for rigorously. The amount and paragenesis of ore and gangue minerals deposited by boiling are presented for numerous hypothetical hydrothermal systems. Analysis of these results suggests that boiling is perhaps the most generally effective ore depositional mechanism at the conditions operative in many boiling hydrothermal systems.

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