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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Gold Deposits in Ancient Turbidites

The southeastern coast of the United States - NOAA

The largest deposits of gold on Earth are found in ancient turbidites that include the Witwatersrand of South Africa and the Abitibi found in Canada in both Qu├ębec and Ontario. By definition a Turbidite is a landslide that occurs on a continental slope of a continental landmass where the erosion products of the continent eventually work their way to the abyssal plain at the bottom of the ocean that can be several kilometers deep.

Turbidites start at the edge of the continental shelf and can be caused by several different geological phenomena. They are deposited by a special type of water flow called a Turbidity Current that can be started by an earthquake, a powerful oceanic storm or in some cases just by the amount of material that collapses in on itself. The turbidity current contains not only water but suspended debris that causes it to flow out of town little slow but a speed that exceeds that of water itself because the current is also carrying suspended particles. Depending on the height of the slope the speed that it flows can reach as much as 70 km/h.

Once this flow reaches the bottom of the slope it quickly loses its forward speed and as it does drops off particles according to their density. It has such a high specific gravity of more than 19 gold is one of the first things that is dropped from a turbidity current. The finer particles and spread out over the abyssal plain of the ocean extending across the abyssal plain for hundreds of kilometers. In many cases at the edge of the flow the finer particles may only be a few millimeters thick, but over time this can actually be built into deposits of great thickness.

Mostly gold of the Turbidite deposit will say relatively close to the edge of the continent. Examples of these Turbidite flows are found in several places in the world one of the classic examples is the MegumaTerrane of Nova Scotia.

Some of the metals found in this environment include gold, silver, tungsten and antimony.  In western Connecticut the Rowe schist is an example of a metamorphosed turbidite.  This formation extends from northern Massachusetts almost to Long Island Sound in Connecticut.  Over the years reports of gold have been rumored about with this formation, but what is lacking is substantial proof i.e. no core drilling.

A capsule description of a turbidite deposit is gold-quartz veins, segregations, lodes, sheeted zones that are hosted by fractures, faults, openings in anticlines, synclines, along bedding planes in the turbidites and those that are associated with poorly sorted clastic sedimentary rocks.

These rocks are typically found close to the margins of continents or in back arc basins.  These rocks were typically deposited in submarine troughs, periarc basins, foreland basins and other remnant oceanic basins.  One feature that is typical of these rocks is multiple deformation events accompanied by metamorphism.  They show evidence of being thick sediment sequences displaying both deformation and are metamorphosed.  Although there can be some igneous rocks found in one of these deposits they tend to be quite rare and are usually present as pegmatites.  In some cases there are younger granitic intrusions associated with these rocks raising them to be raised to greenschist, but in some cases can reach amphibolite grade metamorphism.

The ore mineralogy of one of these deposits whether it is principle or subordinate includes native gold, pyrite, arsenopyrite, phyrottite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, galena, molybdenite, bismuth, stilbite, bornite and other sulfosalt minerals. These minerals generally have a low sulfide content of less than 2.5%. The usual minerals found in association with these ore minerals are Quartz, carbonates, feldspar and chlorite.

When rocks of this type are discovered in glaciated terrains they may undergo deep weathering where alluvial recycling may produce rich placer deposits, such as in the Bendigo region of Australia.

There is several factors that control the ore deposits that are often found in fold crests, discordant veins and tension gashes. In some cases such as the in the Bendigo there is a relationship between ore deposits in the amount of graphite that is found in the country rock. The structural control is often extended to a district causing a scale alignment of deposits. Sometimes the veins appear confined to a specific stratigraphic interval that is often near to a change in stone type. Sometimes a more subtle relationship occurs lower deposits more closely related to the upper portion of the turbidite as of the magma district of Nova Scotia.

Because the low sulfide content, the majority of Quartz veins houses most geophysical methods of geophysical exploration to become ineffective it is often necessary to resort to the more usual prospecting techniques that are often accomplished with a gold pan by tracing the deposit.

In the deposit of this kind is not unusual to find deposits that range from a 50 g per tonne. Many of these are attractive targets for exploration as many of them are world class deposits.

Deposits of this type become incorporated into continental land masses with the death of an ocean by two continental masses colliding and the turbidite deposits are squished between the continents causing the turbidite to become incorporated into the mountain range that is a result of the collision. 

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