Mineralium Deposita

, Volume 50, Issue 6, pp 643–656 | Cite as

Extreme variation of sulfur isotopic compositions in pyrite from the Qiuling sediment-hosted gold deposit, West Qinling orogen, central China: an in situ SIMS study with implications for the source of sulfur

  • Lei Chen
  • Xian-hua Li
  • Jian-wei Li
  • Albert H. Hofstra
  • Yu Liu
  • Alan E. Koenig


High spatial resolution textural (scanning electron microscope (SEM)), chemical (electron microprobe (EMP)) and laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS)), and sulfur isotopic (secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS)) analyses of pyrite from the Qiuling sediment-hosted gold deposit (232 ± 4 Ma) in the West Qinling orogen, central China were conducted to distinguish pyrite types and gain insights into the source and evolution of sulfur in hydrothermal fluids. The results reveal an enormous variation (−27.1 to +69.6 ‰) in sulfur isotopic composition of pyrite deposited during three paragenetic stages. Pre-ore framboidal pyrite, which is characterized by low concentrations of As, Au, Cu, Co, and Ni, has negative δ34S values of −27.1 to −7.6 ‰ that are interpreted in terms of bacterial reduction of marine sulfate during sedimentation and diagenesis of the Paleozoic carbonate and clastic sequences, the predominant lithologies in the deposit area, and the most important hosts of many sediment-hosted gold deposits throughout the West Qinling orogen. The ore-stage hydrothermal pyrite contains high concentrations of Au, As, Cu, Sb, Tl, and Bi and has a relatively narrow range of positive δ34S values ranging from +8.1 to +15.2 ‰. The sulfur isotope data are comparable to those of ore pyrite from many Triassic orogenic gold deposits and Paleozoic sedimentary exhalative (SEDEX) Pb-Zn deposits in the West Qinling orogen, both being hosted mainly in the Devonian sequence. This similarity indicates that sulfur, responsible for the auriferous pyrite at Qiuling, was largely derived from the metamorphic devolatization of Paleozoic marine sedimentary rocks. Post-ore-stage pyrite, which is significantly enriched in Co and Ni but depleted in Au and As, has unusually high δ34S values ranging from +37.4 to +69.6 ‰, that are interpreted to result from thermochemical reduction of evaporite sulfates in underlying Cambrian sedimentary rocks with very high δ34S values. The variations in Au content and sulfur isotopic compositions across a single ore-stage pyrite grain may reflect displacement of indigenous groundwater with low δ34S values by auriferous metamorphic fluids with high δ34S values. The very low-grade metamorphism of the host rocks and the metamorphic derivation of sulfur for the ore pyrite indicate that the Qiuling sediment-hosted gold deposit is an epizonal manifestation of an orogenic gold system in the West Qinling orogen.


Pyrite SIMS Sulfur isotopes Sediment-hosted gold deposit Qinling orogen 



We thank Assistant Prof. John Cliff and Prof. Matt Kilburn for generously sharing their pyrite reference material and Ms. Hong-xia Ma for her help with microanalytical sample preparation. Dr. Shu-Guang Hua and Mr. Ji-Xiang Sui provided help in the field. The manuscript benefited from detailed and constructive reviews by two anonymous reviewers, which are gratefully appreciated. We thank Profs. Rui-zhong Hu (AE) and Bernd Lehmann (Editor-in-Chief) for editorial handling and useful suggestions. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grants 41303008, 41325007, 41203016, 41072057), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2013 M541034), National Basic Research Program of China (2014CB440906), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (N120401002), and the State Key Laboratory of Lithospheric Evolution, IGG-CAS.

Compliance with ethical standards

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

126_2015_597_Fig7_ESM.jpg (1003 kb)

Representative peak shapes for 32S, 33S, and 34S determinations using a 60-μm entrance slit and a 500-μm exit slit. (a) The mass resolution power (MRP) of 4800 was employed to generate an arc-shaped peak on 32S. (b) Mass spectrum of 33S. The MRP of 2400 is high enough to separate 33S from the interfering peak of 32S1H. 33S was counted on the flat top of the left side of the peak. (JPEG 1002 kb)

126_2015_597_MOESM1_ESM.xls (276 kb)
ESM 2 EMP major element (wt%) and SIMS sulfur isotopic composition (‰) of pyrite from the Qiuling sediment-hosted gold deposit, China. (XLS 276 kb)
126_2015_597_MOESM2_ESM.xls (38 kb)
ESM 3 LA-ICP-MS trace element (ppm) composition of pyrite from the Qiuling sediment-hosted gold deposit, China. (XLS 37 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lei Chen
    • 1
  • Xian-hua Li
    • 1
  • Jian-wei Li
    • 2
  • Albert H. Hofstra
    • 3
  • Yu Liu
    • 1
  • Alan E. Koenig
    • 3
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Lithospheric Evolution, Institute of Geology and GeophysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral ResourcesChina University of GeosciencesWuhanChina
  3. 3.U.S. Geological SurveyDenverUSA

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