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The Bushveld Complex, South Africa: formation of platinum–palladium, chrome- and vanadium-rich layers via hydrodynamic sorting of a mobilized cumulate slurry in a large, relatively slowly cooling, subsiding magma chamber

Abstract

Platinum-group element (PGE) deposits in the Bushveld Complex and other layered intrusions form when large, incompletely solidified magma chambers undergo central subsidence in response to crustal loading, resulting in slumping of semi-consolidated cumulate slurries to the centres of the intrusions and hydrodynamic unmixing of the slurries to form dense layers enriched in sulfides, oxides, olivine and pyroxene and less dense layers enriched in plagioclase. The most economic PGE, Cr and V reefs form in large, multiple-replenished intrusions because these cool relatively slowly and their central portions subside prior to termination of magmatism and complete cumulate solidification. The depth of emplacement has to be relatively shallow as, otherwise, ductile crust would not be able to flex and collapse. In smaller intrusions, cooling rates are faster, subsidence is less pronounced and, where it occurs, the cumulate may be largely solidified, resulting in insignificant mush mobility and mineral sorting. Layering is thus less pronounced and less regular and continuous and the grades of the reefs are lower, but the reefs can be relatively thicker. An additional factor controlling the PGE, Cr and V prospectivity of intrusions is their location within cratons. Intra-cratonic environments offer more stable emplacement conditions that are more amenable to the formation of large, layered igneous bodies. Furthermore, intrusions sited within cratons are more readily preserved because cratons are underlain by thick, buoyant keels of harzburgite that prevent plate tectonic recycling and destruction of crust.

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Acknowledgments

The present ideas developed over the course of more than two decades, due in large part to discussions with numerous collegues and friends, beginning with WDM’s Ph.D. supervisor Hugh Eales at Rhodes University, Ph.D. co-students Billy de Klerk and Bernd Teigler, and later our collegues Sybrand de Waal, Chusi Li, Steve Barnes, Rodger Scoon, Tony Naldrett, Martin Sharpe, Thomas Oberthür, Eero Hanski, Tapio Halkoaho, Ed Ripley, Belinda Godel, “Budgie” Carr, Iain McDonald, Nick Arndt, Hazel Prichard, Jim Mungall, Alan Wilson, Grant Cawthorn, Mike Lesher and Ed Mathez. Many of them do not share the present interpretations but were always willing to engage in, sometimes animated, debate. We are also grateful to the mining companies who provided access to their properties and data (notably JCI, Impala Platinum, Anglo Platinum, Lonmin, Rand Mines, Anglovaal, Caledonia Mining, Pan Palladium, Anooraq Resources) and to the funding agencies that provided research funding over the years, namely, the Foundation for Research Development of South Africa, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Australian Research Council. Thorough reviews of J Scoates, AJ Naldrett and M Lesher led to significant improvement of the manuscript and are greatly appreciated.

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Editorial handling: C.M. Lesher

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Maier, W.D., Barnes, SJ. & Groves, D.I. The Bushveld Complex, South Africa: formation of platinum–palladium, chrome- and vanadium-rich layers via hydrodynamic sorting of a mobilized cumulate slurry in a large, relatively slowly cooling, subsiding magma chamber. Miner Deposita 48, 1–56 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-012-0436-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-012-0436-1

Keywords

  • Chromite
  • Main Zone
  • Layered Intrusion
  • Bushveld Complex
  • Magnetite Layer