The Youjiang basin on the southwestern margin of the Yangtze block in southwestern China is the world’s second largest Carlin-type gold province after Nevada, USA. The lack of precise age determinations on gold deposits in this province has hindered understanding of their genesis and relation to the geodynamic setting. Although most Carlin-type gold deposits in the basin are hosted in calcareous sedimentary rocks, ~70% of the ore in the Badu Carlin-type gold deposit is hosted by altered and sulfidized dolerite. Although in most respects Badu is similar to other Carlin-type gold deposits in the province, alteration of the unusual dolerite host produced hydrothermal rutile and monazite that can be dated.
Field observations show that gold mineralization is spatially associated with, but temporally later than, dolerite. In situ secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) U-Pb dating on magmatic zircon from the least altered dolerite yielded a robust emplacement age of 212.2 ± 1.9 Ma (2σ, mean square of weighted deviates [MSWD] = 0.55), providing a maximum age constraint on gold mineralization. The U-Th/He ages of detrital zircons from hydrothermally mineralized sedimentary host rocks at Badu and four other Carlin-type gold deposits yielded consistent weighted mean ages of 146 to 130 Ma that record cooling from a temperature over 180° to 200°C and place a lower limit on the age of gold mineralization in the basin.
Hydrothermal rutile and monazite that are coeval with gold mineralization have been identified in the mineralized dolerite. Rutile is closely associated with hydrothermal ankerite, sericite, and gold-bearing pyrite. It has high concentrations of W, Fe, V, Cr, and Nb, as well as growth zones that are variably enriched in W, Fe, Nb, and U. Monazite contains primary two-phase fluid inclusions and is intergrown with gold-bearing pyrite and hydrothermal minerals. In situ SIMS U-Pb dating of rutile yielded a Tera-Wasserburg lower intercept age of 141.7 ± 5.8 Ma (2σ, MSWD = 1.04) that is within error of the in situ SIMS Th-Pb age of 143.5 ± 1.4 Ma (2σ, MSWD = 1.5) on monazite. These ages are ~70 m.y. younger than magmatic zircons in the host dolerite and are similar to the aforementioned U-Th/He cooling ages on detrital zircons from hydrothermally mineralized sedimentary host rocks. We, therefore, conclude that the Badu Carlin-type gold deposit formed at ca. 144 Ma. The agreement of the rutile and monazite ages with the U-Th-He cooling ages of Badu and four other Carlin-type gold deposits in the Youjiang basin suggests that ca. 144 Ma is representative of a regional Early Cretaceous Carlin-type hydrothermal event formed during back-arc extension.