Abstract

This paper presents results of chemical speciation and reaction path calculations that model fluid chemistry evolution and ore deposition in the main-stage Creede, Colorado, epithermal system. An extensive geologic, mineralogic, and geochemical framework for mineralization has been developed by many researchers for the central and southern district vein systems (OH and P veins; central and southern Amethyst and Bulldog Mountain vein systems) and is used to constrain and guide the modeling presented in this paper. Previous studies have shown that the central base metal sulfide-rich and southern barite- and silver-rich Creede ores were deposited by hydrothermal brines with temperatures as high as 285 degrees C and salinities as high as 13 wt percent NaCl equiv. Fluid inclusion studies indicate that mixing with dilute steam-heated ground waters was the dominant ore deposition mechanism, although boiling did occur during some stages. Speciation calculations confirm that the hydrothermal fluids, due to their high salinities, were relatively acidic (pH near 5.5) and transported significant quantities of base metals (i.e., up to 10-2 m total concentrations of Zn) as chloride complexes. Reaction path calculations show that strong north-south mineralogical variations in main-stage mineralization are best accounted for by variable boiling of the hydrothermal brines, followed by lateral mixing of the brines with overlying dilute, steam-heated ground waters. The extent of boiling prior to mixing was a function of the temperature and gas contents of the hydrothermal fluids as they first entered the district ore zones from depth, and of the thickness of the steam-heated ground-water column overlying the hydrothermal fluids. The calculations indicate that limited amounts of boiling (during stages when the overlying ground-water column was relatively thick) produced a chlorite-pyrite-hematite-sphalerite-galena-chalcopyrite + or - adularia assemblage in the central district vein systems (OH and P veins; central Amethyst and Bulldog Mountain vein systems). More extensive boiling (during a stage in which the ground-water table apparently dropped considerably) deposited quartz, fluorite, adularia, and hematite with only minor sulfides in the central district veins. Boiling ceased when the saturation pressure of the hydrothermal fluids dropped below hydrostatic pressures generated by the overlying ground-water column. Following boiling, lateral mixing with overlying steam-heated ground waters initially produced sphalerite- and galena-rich assemblages in the central district vein systems. With continued mixing to the south, the hydrothermal fluids deposited abundant barite, subordinate sphalerite, galena, and quartz, and lesser native silver, acanthite, and sulfosalts in the district's southern vein systems (southern Amethyst, southern Bulldog Mountain vein systems).Modeling results for Creede and other epithermal fluid compositions show that epithermal ore grades, mineral assemblages, and mineral zoning patterns are strongly influenced by shallow hydrologic processes such as boiling and fluid mixing. As a result, epithermal mineral assemblages and zoning patterns can be used to reconstruct the paleohydrology of the hydrothermal systems from which they were deposited, and thus provide useful tools for epithermal ore exploration.

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