The role of dense brines in the formation of vent-distal sedimentary-exhalative (SEDEX) lead–zinc deposits: field and laboratory evidence
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A majority of the world's sediment-hosted exhalative (SEDEX) lead–zinc deposits are vent-distal. They are not underlain by a discordant alteration zone or stockwork vent complex that would indicate the path by which ore fluids reached the seafloor. The absence of a vent complex, together with sulfide mineral replacement of host rock mineral assemblages has led several investigators to suggest that, in spite of the well-layered nature of these deposits, mineralization was formed by sub-seafloor lateral migration of ore fluids along permeable strata. Field observations, supported by simple laboratory experiments, however, suggest an alternative process for characterizing the genesis of vent-distal SEDEX deposits. Cool, saline brines (e.g., ~120 °C and >15 wt% NaCl equiv.) are denser than seawater and, upon discharging into the sea, would flow away from the discharge vent as bottom-hugging fluids, similar to the behavior of turbidity currents. Their high densities and velocities prevent them from mixing with overlying seawater, thereby precluding significant cooling and dilution of the ore fluid. Upon coming to rest in a seafloor depression, the addition of H2S and/or dilution of the ore fluids to lower salinities result in the eventual precipitation of a vent-distal SEDEX deposit. Furthermore, the dense ore-forming fluid can sink into permeable sediments beneath the brine pool by displacing less dense pore water. The ore fluids are thus capable of effectively overprinting and/or replacing pre-existing minerals in the consolidating sediment pile.
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