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The gold content of volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits

Abstract

Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits contain variable amounts of gold, both in terms of average grade and total gold content, with some VMS deposits hosting world-class gold mines with more than 100 t Au. Previous studies have identified gold-rich VMS as having an average gold grade, expressed in g/t, exceeding the total abundance of base metals, expressed in wt.%. However, statistically meaningful criteria for the identification of truly anomalous deposits have not been established. This paper presents a more extensive analysis of gold grades and tonnages of 513 VMS deposits worldwide, revealing a number of important features in the distribution of the data. A large proportion of deposits are characterized by a relatively low gold grade (<2 g/t), with a gradual decrease in frequency towards maximum gold grades, defining a log-normal distribution. In the analysis presented in this paper, the geometric mean and geometric standard deviation appear to be the simplest metric for identifying subclasses of VMS deposits based on gold grade, especially when comparing deposits within individual belts and districts. The geometric mean gold grade of 513 VMS deposits worldwide is 0.76 g/t; the geometric standard deviation is +2.70 g/t Au. In this analysis, deposits with more than 3.46 g/t Au (geometric mean plus one geometric standard deviation) are considered auriferous. The geometric mean gold content is 4.7 t Au, with a geometric standard deviation of +26.3 t Au. Deposits containing 31 t Au or more (geometric mean plus one geometric standard deviation) are also considered to be anomalous in terms of gold content, irrespective of the gold grade. Deposits with more than 3.46 g/t Au and 31 t Au are considered gold-rich VMS. A large proportion of the total gold hosted in VMS worldwide is found in a relatively small number of such deposits. The identification of these truly anomalous systems helps shed light on the geological parameters that control unusual enrichment of gold in VMS. At the district scale, the gold-rich deposits occupy a stratigraphic position and volcanic setting that commonly differs from other deposits of the district possibly due to a step change in the geodynamic and magmatic evolution of local volcanic complexes. The gold-rich VMS are commonly associated with transitional to calc-alkaline intermediate to felsic volcanic rocks, which may reflect a particularly fertile geodynamic setting and/or timing (e.g., early arc rifting or rifting front). At the deposit scale, uncommon alteration assemblages (e.g., advanced argillic, aluminous, strongly siliceous, or potassium feldspar alteration) and trace element signatures may be recognized (e.g., Au–Ag–As–Sb ± Bi–Hg–Te), suggesting a direct magmatic input in some systems.

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Acknowledgements

This study is part of the Targeted Geoscience Initiative-3 Program, Abitibi Project of the Geological Survey of Canada. It is also a contribution to the IGCP-502 project. The authors wish to express their sincere appreciation to H. Poulsen for his help and guidance with mineral deposits statistics and classification and to R. Allen, F. Tornos, and J. Walker for sharing their knowledge of the Skellefte District, the Iberian Pyrite Belt, and the Bathurst Mining Camp, respectively. Thanks to A. Galley, W. Goodfellow, J. Franklin, and I. Jonasson for insightful comments on VMS deposits and constructive comments on a preliminary version of the manuscript. An earlier version of this manuscript was substantially improved by comments and suggestions from D. Huston, S. McClenaghan, and J. Peter.

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Correspondence to Patrick Mercier-Langevin.

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Geological Survey of Canada contribution 20090023

Editorial handling: B. Lehmann

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Table 2

Table 2 Listing of the auriferous, gold-rich and world-class gold-rich VMS deposits based on the criteria proposed in this study

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Mercier-Langevin, P., Hannington, M.D., Dubé, B. et al. The gold content of volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits. Miner Deposita 46, 509–539 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-010-0300-0

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Keywords

  • Gold
  • Volcanogenic massive sulfides
  • Gold-rich VMS
  • World-class
  • Base metals