Abstract

The Relief Canyon gold deposit in the Humboldt Range of western Nevada is a low-grade, high-tonnage orebody of Tertiary or younger age. The host rocks include limestones of the Triassic Cane Spring Formation, which are overlain by shales of the Triassic Grass Valley Formation. The rocks were folded and metamorphosed to greenschist grade during Jurassic and Cretaceous regional tectonic activity. Mesozoic thrusting may have occurred along the shale-limestone contact, but evidence has been obscured by later hydrothermal activity. The sedimentary rocks were nominally offset along several Late Tertiary normal faults related to uplift of the range.The upper part of the Cane Spring Formation is composed of a poorly sorted breccia composed of limestone clasts with a clay matrix. Irregular pockets within this zone are filled with clay- to pebble-sized fragments derived from the Grass Valley shale. The enclosing limestone beds were tilted moderately to the southwest during Mesozoic deformation, whereas bedding within these pockets is generally horizontal, indicating post-tilting deposition of the sediments. The sediments show graded bedding and other sedimentary features that indicate deposition from flowing water. Thermally mature carbon derived from the limestone is also concentrated in small pockets in the matrix. The breccia unit is likely the product of low-temperature solution brecciation. Ground water dissolved much of the limestone directly beneath the shales, progressively creating irregular cavities and the breccia. Sediments derived from the overlying Grass Valley shale were fiuvially deposited as a matrix to the developing solution breccia.Episodic pulses of hydrothermal fluids were introduced along faults and possibly mixed with the ground water in the breccia zone. Initially, jasperoids formed along the faults, but later hydrothermal pulses introduced gold, silica, and fluorine into both the early jasperoids and the unconsolidated cave-fill sediments to form the orebody. Continued solution-related brecciation chaotically disrupted the gold deposit.Gold, fluorite, pyrite, silver, calcite, and fine-grained silica are the principal hydrothermal minerals in the deposit. Gold was deposited as micron-sized flakes of native gold and rarely as electrum during a relatively late stage of silicification of the jasperoids, the carbon-rich zones, and the clay-rich matrix of the breccia. Fluorite was deposited with and later than the gold in the jasperoids, and it in part replaced the clay-rich breccia matrix. Antimony, arsenic, mercury, and thallium are directly associated with gold in the orebody.The deposit formed at a relatively shallow depth. On the basis of fluid inclusion data, late-stage hydrothermal fluids related to gold and fluorite deposition were extremely dilute and had temperatures near 200 degrees C. The fluid inclusions in fluorite show no evidence for boiling, but porous crackle breccias in the jasperoids suggest that hydrobrecciation took place.

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