Ore Textures: Problems and Opportunities

Paul B. Barton Jr.
959 U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia 22092, U.S.A.

Abstract: Over the past several decades, thinking about chemical processes in rocks had been dominated by experimental and theoretical treatments of mineral equilibrium, which is the state from which the time variable has been excluded. But, to an extent exceeding that of any of our sister sciences, we in geology are concerned with the behaviour of things as a function of time; thus equilibrium is but one of several interesting boundary conditions. Textures, (defined as the spatial relations within and among minerals and fluids, regardless of scale or origin) provide a means to sort out and identify successive states. In fact, it is the pattern of evolution of those states that enables us to deduce the processes. We may well draw the analogy with thermodynamics and kinetics, respectively:

equilibrium textures and phase assemblages, via thermodynamic analysis → definition of conditions of equilibration, whereas kinetics, as displayed in disequilibrium textures → sequence of events and processes of mineralization.

The interpretation of textures is one of the most difficult yet important aspects of the study of rocks and ores, and there are few areas of scientific endeavour that are more subject to misinterpretation. Although the difficulties are many, the opportunites for new understanding are also abundant. Textural interpretations have many facets: some are well established and accepted; some that are accepted may be wrong; others are recognised to be speculative and controversial; and we trust that still other textural features remain to be described and interpreted. This paper will deal principally with low-temperature, epigenetic ore deposits, and will emphasise silica and sphalerite; but extension to other materials is not unreasonable.

Ore and gangue minerals react internally, or with their environment, at widely ranging rates, ranging from the almost inert pyrite, arsenopyrite, well-crystallised quartz, and tourmaline to the notoriously fickle copper/iron and copper/silver sulfides. Arrested or incomplete reactions may be identifed by textural criteria and, when appropriately quantified, can provide guides to the duration of geological processes.

In recent years so much emphasis has been placed on isotopes, fluids, chemistry, and deposit and process models that the textural features have been ignored. In part this oversight occurs because we have grown accustomed to using superposition, cross-cutting, pseudomorphism, mutual intergrowths, exsolution and so on as off-the-shelf tools, to be grasped and applied without evaluation or even description. Surely science must build on previous work without constant and exhaustive reassessment, but for mineral textures a little reassessment may yield substantial benefit.

Keywords: ore deposits • textures • phase assemblages • silica • sphalerite

Mineralogical Magazine; September 1991 v. 55; no. 380; p. 303-315; DOI: 10.1180/minmag.1991.055.380.02
© 1991, The Mineralogical Society
Mineralogical Society (www.minersoc.org)