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Supergene gold in silcrete as a vector to the Scuddles volcanic massive sulfides, Western Australia

  • Walid SalamaEmail author
  • Ravi Anand
  • Anthony Morey
  • Lucas Williams
Article
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Abstract

This study reports data on the first occurrence of economic supergene Au in a near-surface silcrete horizon over the Scuddles volcanic massive sulfide (VMS) deposit in the Golden Grove district, Western Australia. A deep weathering profile was developed on dacite, rhyodacite, siltstone, and breccia that host primary Cu, Zn, and Pb sulfides with Au-Ag ore. From the base, the weathering profile at Scuddles is subdivided into five main zones: (1) supergene sulfide enrichment zone; (2) supergene oxide enrichment zone; (3) ferruginous saprolite; (4) leached zone of kaolinitic saprolite and silcrete; and (5) lateritic zone of mottled clays, ferruginous duricrust, and gravels. Silcrete at Scuddles hosts supergene Au deposit that formed in two generations: the first is intimately associated with Ag halides during supergene enrichment of the primary VMS, and the second is associated with kaolinite in dissolution cavities inside Ag halides during lateritic weathering. These two Au generations imply more than one mechanism of Au remobilization and formation, multiple fluid pathways, and superimposed episodes of weathering under variable timing and climatic conditions. Gold grains are pure, nanocrystalline (up to 10 nm) and clustered together forming microcrystalline aggregates. A few Au grains are residual in silcrete with Ag-Sb-rich cores and Ag-poor rims possibly formed during dealloying of Ag and Sb. Chemically, Au in silcrete is associated with a multi-element concentration of Ag, I, Br, Cl, Sb, Sn, Bi, Hg, Mo, W, Te, and Ge. Gold and Ag in the supergene weathering profile were mobilized to silcrete as a halide complex under acidic and saline conditions generated during the oxidation of massive sulfides at depth. The precipitation of Au-Ag halides in the silcrete may have taken place in response to a rise in pH. Gold was likely remobilized with kaolinite from the surface lateritic zone, facilitated by decays of plant roots and bioturbation. The clustered spongy, cube-octahedral, platy (six-sided), dendritic-, and reniform-like morphologies of Au in cavities inside Ag halides may indicate biogenic-related processes in its precipitation. Recognizing Au-Ag-rich silcrete over the buried VMS at Scuddles highlights the significance of the silcrete in finding buried VMS, particularly if the gossan is absent.

Keywords

Golden Grove Exploration Silver halides Supergene weathering Western Australia 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the following: CSIRO Mineral Resources for the analytical facilities; Michael Verrall for the XRD and SEM analyses; Malcolm Roberts from the CMCA; the University of Western Australia for the Electron Probe microanalyses. The authors would also like to express their gratitude to Mark Van Heerden, Stefan Gawlinski, and Luke Ashford-Hodges from EMR Golden Grove., for their critical discussion and helpful comments and Simon Cornwell for helping to source appropriate samples and discuss critical aspects of the Scuddles and Gossan Hill oxide systems. Steve Hollis is also thanked for drafting Fig. 1a. CSIRO internal reviewers David Gray and Yulia Uvarova, referees, editor-in-chief Georges Beaudoin, AE Albert Gilg of Mineralium Deposita are thanked for their critical reviews of this manuscript.

Funding information

The authors would like to thank the MMG Ltd. for funding chemical analyses, logistic support during fieldwork, and providing drill hole data.

Supplementary material

126_2019_868_MOESM1_ESM.docx (461 kb)
ESM 1 A geological map of the Scuddles area, Golden Grove, Western Australia showing the main NW-SE and N-S trending strike-slip, thrust and normal faults including the Scuddles fault (in blue). (DOCX 460 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (54 kb)
ESM 2 XRF analyses of major oxides and ICP-MS analyses of trace elements of regolith, host rock units of drill holes SCRC012 and SCRC015 as well as primary sulfides. (XLSX 53 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM3_ESM.docx (1.7 mb)
ESM 3 Typical weathering profile at the Scuddles Mine showing bedrock and the VMS deposits, supergene sulfide enrichment zone (cementation zone) dominated by chalcocite and malachite, supergene Cu-Zn-Pb sulfate, carbonate and phosphate-enriched enrichment zone, Fe oxide zone (ferruginous saprolite), leached zone of kaolinitic saprolite or silcrete, Fe-rich zone (mottled saprolite, ferruginous duricrust) and a thin transported cover of reworked gossan clasts, lateritic pisoliths and nodules. (DOCX 1693 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM4_ESM.docx (2 mb)
ESM 4 A stratigraphic column of the weathering profile of the area surrounding the silcrete body and represented by drill hole SCRC014. A leached zone consists of 52m-thick and is represented, from the base, by 36m-thick kaolinitic saprolite, grading upward into 16m-thick silicified kaolinitic saprolite and 8m-thick mottled saprolite. The leached zone is underlain by a supergene enrichment zone (dominated by azurite), saprock, and bedrock. (DOCX 2054 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM5_ESM.docx (279 kb)
ESM 5 Stratigraphic log versus chemical logs of drill hole SCRC012 showing the weathering profile showing beached zone consists of silcrete and silicified kaolinitic saprolite overlain by mottled zone and underlain by thin ferruginous saprolite, saprock, and bedrock. Silcrete is characterized by >90 wt.% SiO2, up to 2 wt.% TiO2 and a relatively high content of HFSE (Zr, Hf, Nb, Ta, Y and U). Silcrete is also characterised by a depletion in Al2O3, Fe2O3, MnO, P2O5, K2O, Na2O, CaO, MgO, Ba, Sr, Cs, Rb, Tl and F that are elevated in silicified kaolinitic saprolite due to the presence of muscovite. (DOCX 279 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM6_ESM.docx (461 kb)
ESM 6 Stratigraphic logs versus chemical logs showing the close association of SiO2 (>90%.wt.%) and Au in silcrete. (DOCX 460 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM7_ESM.docx (331 kb)
ESM 7 Stratigraphic logs of regolith profile cutting across SC2 member of the Scuddles Formation versus chemical logs of drill holes SCRC004 and SCRC015 showing vertical chemical variations in major oxides (SiO2, Al2O3, Fe2O3, CaO, MgO, K2O, TiO2, P2O5), Au, Ag, base metals (Cu, Zn and Pb) and S. The leached zone is composed of kaolinitic and silicified kaolinitic saprolite with silcrete developed. Silica is between 60-80wt.% in silicified and kaolinitic saprolite. Iron oxides, CaO, MgO, and P2O5 are depleted in silicified and kaolinitic saprolite, whereas K2O increases. Titanium and Al oxides are relatively higher in the weathering profile than in bedrock, but remain constant. Gold, Ag, Cu, Zn, Pb, and S are depleted in the silicified kaolinitic saprolite and increase in supergene sulfide enrichment zone (e.g. drill hole SCRC004) and sulfate, carbonate, and phosphate-enriched enrichment zone (e.g. SCRC015). (DOCX 330 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM8_ESM.docx (782 kb)
ESM 8 A-C) EDX spectra of iodargyrite and “embolite”. D-I) Back-scattered imaged of a Ag halide grain (D) and Element maps showing the distribution of Ag, Au, Cl, Br and I. (DOCX 781 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM9_ESM.xlsx (11 kb)
ESM 9 EPMA of primary Au and Ag and secondary Au from silcrete at Scuddles. Bd is below detection. (XLSX 10 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM10_ESM.xlsx (11 kb)
ESM 10 LA ICP-MS analyses of Ag halides from silcrete at Scuddles. (XLSX 10 kb)
126_2019_868_MOESM11_ESM.docx (863 kb)
ESM 11 Backscattered electron images, EDX spectrum and semi-quantitative analysis of pyrosmalite ((Fe, Mn)8 Si6O15 (OH, Cl)10). (DOCX 862 kb)

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Copyright information

© Crown 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walid Salama
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ravi Anand
    • 1
  • Anthony Morey
    • 2
  • Lucas Williams
    • 3
  1. 1.CSIRO Mineral ResourcesKensingtonAustralia
  2. 2.Millennium Minerals LtdBelmontAustralia
  3. 3.EMR Golden GroveGeraldtonAustralia

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