Mineralium Deposita

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 179–200 | Cite as

Mobility of Au and related elements during the hydrothermal alteration of the oceanic crust: implications for the sources of metals in VMS deposits

  • Clifford G. C. PattenEmail author
  • Iain K. Pitcairn
  • Damon A. H. Teagle
  • Michelle Harris


Volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits are commonly enriched in Cu, Zn and Pb and can also be variably enriched in Au, As, Sb, Se and Te. The behaviour of these elements during hydrothermal alteration of the oceanic crust is not well known. Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Hole 1256D penetrates a complete in situ section of the upper oceanic crust, providing a unique sample suite to investigate the behaviour of metals during hydrothermal alteration. A representative suite of samples was analysed for Au, As, Sb, Se and Te using low detection limit methods, and a mass balance of metal mobility has been carried out through comparison with a fresh Mid-Oceanic Ridge Basalt (MORB) glass database. The mass balance shows that Au, As, Se, Sb, S, Cu, Zn and Pb are depleted in the sheeted dyke and plutonic complexes by −46 ± 12, −27 ± 5, −2.5 ± 0.5, −27 ± 6, −8.4 ± 0.7, −9.6 ± 1.6, −7.9 ± 0.5 and −44 ± 6 %, respectively. Arsenic and Sb are enriched in the volcanic section due to seawater-derived fluid circulation. Calculations suggest that large quantities of metal are mobilised from the oceanic crust but only a small proportion is eventually trapped as VMS mineralisation. The quantity of Au mobilised and the ratio of Au to base metals are similar to those of mafic VMS, and ten times enrichment of Au would be needed to form a Au-rich VMS. The Cu-rich affinity of mafic VMS deposits could be explained by base metal fractionation both in the upper sheeted dykes and during VMS deposit formation.


Volcanic massive sulphide Au-rich VMS ODP Hole 1256D Hydrothermal alteration Oceanic crust 



This work was funded by Stockholm University and by the Swedish Research Council (PRG 621-2007-4539). The authors would like to thank Patrick Mercier-Langevin and an anonymous reviewer who greatly helped to improve the manuscript. Ahmad Boskabadi and Adam Engström are also thanked for the help provided during Au and related element analyses. Michelle Harris was supported by a NERC PhD studentship and major and trace element analyses by research grants NER/T/S/2003/00048, NE/E001971/1, NE/H012842/1, and NE/I006311/1 to DAHT. This research used samples provided by the ODP and IODP. The ODP was sponsored by the National Foundation (NSF) and participating countries under management of Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI). The IODP was supported by NSF; Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology; the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling; the Australia-New Zealand IODP Consortium; and the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Science and Technology.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clifford G. C. Patten
    • 1
    Email author
  • Iain K. Pitcairn
    • 1
  • Damon A. H. Teagle
    • 2
  • Michelle Harris
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre SouthamptonUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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