Metamorphic Fluids and Gold

G. Neil Phillips
Key Centre In Economic Geology, Geology Department, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld. 4811, Australia

Abstract: Low-salinity fluids (T > 200°C reduced S, modest CO2) and high geothermal gradients are common to many gold deposits and provinces. In contrast, host rocks, hosting structures, depth of formation (in the crust during deposition), subsequent metamorphic overprint, alteration mineralogy and isotopic signatures can vary dramatically within single deposits or provinces. Gold deposits with co-product base metals are an exception to the above comments, and probably relate to saline fluids.

The low salinity fluids inferred for major gold-only deposits are not easily explained by seawater, basinal brines, meteoric fluid or common magmatic processes. In contrast, metamorphic devolatilisation of mafic/greywacke rocks is one effective way to produce low-salinity metamorphic fluids with characteristics matching the gold fluids. Such an origin also explains the link to geothermal gradients.

The transition from chlorite—albite—carbonate assemblages to amphibole-plagioclase assemblages (commonly greenschist—amphibolite facies boundary) involves considerable loss of metamorphic fluid whose composition is buffered by the mineral assemblage, and is a function of P and T. This low salinity, H2O-CO2 fluid is evolved at T > 400°C commonly carries reduced sulphur, and may contain Au complexed with this sulphur. This auriferous fluid is likely to mix with other fluid types during times of elevated temperature, especially magmatic fluids at depth, and upper crustal fluids at higher levels.

Gold deposits in Archaean greenstone belts exhibit good evidence of low salinity, H2O-CO2 fluids of T > 300°C these include examples from Canada, Australia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, India, and South Africa. Turbidite-hosted (slate-belt) deposits exhibit similar evidence for such fluids but commonly with appreciable CH4; the Victoria and Juneau (Alaska) goldfields are examples. The Witwatersrand goldfields also show evidence of low salinity, H2O-CO2 fluids carrying reduced sulphur and gold, but their distribution and timing are not well established. Epithermal (sensu lato) gold deposits have evidence for low salinity fluids carrying Au and S, but are much more diverse in character than those from the previously mentioned gold provinces: this probably arises from mixing of several fluid types at high crustal levels. Together these four types of gold provinces account for over 80% of the primary gold mined to date.

Keywords: metamorphic fluids • gold • low-salinity fluids

Mineralogical Magazine; September 1993 v. 57; no. 388; p. 365-374; DOI: 10.1180/minmag.1993.057.388.02
© 1993, The Mineralogical Society
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