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3D modeling of the laterites on top of the Koniambo Massif, New Caledonia: refinement of the per descensum lateritic model for nickel mineralization

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Resulting from the weathering of the Peridotite Nappe, laterites are abundant in New Caledonia and host one of the largest nickel deposits worldwide. This work presents a 3D model of the Koniambo nickel laterite ore deposit. It shows that the laterites are located along the ridges of the massif and organized as hectometric-sized patches obliquely cut by the topography and distributed at various elevations. Three kinds of geometry were observed: (i) a thick laterite cover (between 20 and 40 m) overlying saprolite and mainly localized on topographic highs, (ii) a thin laterite cover (from a few meters to 20 m) mainly localized on areas with gentle slopes, and (iii) exposure of saprolite without laterite cover. Our data show that Ni-rich and Ni-poor areas are organized as hectometric-sized patches which broadly correlate with the distribution of the laterite thickness. The highest Ni areas are localized on slopes where laterite cover is thin or absent. The areas with lowest Ni are located in topographic highs under the thickest laterite cover. The vertical Ni mass balance for each borehole shows that, in areas with thick laterite cover, Ni is sub-equilibrated to slightly depleted whereas in areas with thin laterite cover, Ni is enriched. This suggests the existence of lateral infiltration of water rich in dissolved Ni, from areas such as topographic highs to downstream slope areas, in a process leading to enrichment of saprolite in Ni in slope areas. Mechanical transport and leaching of laterite material on slopes, including Ni-bearing material, could also contribute to local enrichment of Ni in the saprolite.

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This study constitutes a part of B. Quesnel PhD which was supported by Koniambo S.A.S. GeoRessources contribution has been supported by ANR-10-LABX-21-LABEX RESSOURCES 21.We gratefully thank Martin A. Wells and an anonymous reviewer for their detailed and constructive reviews and Beate Orberger and Georges Beaudoin for their editorial handling and their constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Benoît Quesnel.

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Editorial handling: B. Orberger

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Quesnel, B., de Veslud, C.L.C., Boulvais, P. et al. 3D modeling of the laterites on top of the Koniambo Massif, New Caledonia: refinement of the per descensum lateritic model for nickel mineralization. Miner Deposita 52, 961–978 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-017-0712-1

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  • Goethite
  • Topographic High
  • Lateral Infiltration
  • Lateritic Profile
  • Saprolite Zone