Sulphide Mineralization And Wall-Rock Alteration In Ophiolites And Modern Oceanic Spreading Centres

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Journal Article: Sulphide Mineralization And Wall-Rock Alteration In Ophiolites And Modern Oceanic Spreading Centres

Massive and stockwork Fe-Cu-Zn (Cyprus type) sulphide deposits in the upper parts of ophiolite complexes represent hydrothermal mineralization at ancient accretionary plate boundaries. These deposits are probable metallogenic analogues of the polymetallic sulphide deposits recently discovered along modern oceanic spreading centres. Genetic models for these deposits suggest that mineralization results from large-scale circulation of sea-water through basaltic basement along the tectonically active axis of spreading, a zone of high heat flow. The high geothermal gradient above 1 to 2 km deep magma chambers emplaced below the ridge axis drives the convective circulation cell. Cold oxidizing sea-water penetrating the crust on the ridge flanks becomes heated and evolves into a highly reduced somewhat acidic hydrothermal solvent during interaction with basaltic wall-rock. Depending on the temperature and water/rock ratio, this fluid is capable of leaching and transporting iron, manganese, and base metals; dissolved sea-water sulphate is reduced to sulphide. At the ridge axis, the buoyant hydrothermal fluid rises through permeable wall-rocks, and fluid flow may be focussed along deep-seated fractures related to extensional tectonic processes. Metal sulphides are precipitated along channelways as the ascending fluid undergoes adiabatic expansion and then further cooling during mixing with ambient sub-sea-floor water. Vigorous fluid flow results in venting of reduced fluid at the sea-floor/sea-water interface and deposition of massive sulphide. A comparison of sulphide mineralization and wall-rock alteration in ancient and modern spreading centre environments supports this genetic concept. Massive sulphide deposits in ophiolites generally occur in clusters of closely spaced (< 1-5 km) deposits. Individual deposits are a composite of syngenetic massive sulphide and underlying epigenetic stockwork-vein mineralization. The massive sulphide occurs as concordant tabular, lenticular, or saucer-shaped bodies in pillow lavas and pillow-lava breccia; massive lava flows, hyalcoclastite, tuff, and bedded radolarian chert are less commonly associated rock types. These massive sulphide zones are as much as 700 m long, 200 m wide, and 50 m thick. The pipe-, funnel-, or keel-shaped stockwork zone may extend to a dehpth of 1 km in the sheeted-dike complex. Several deposits in Cyprus are confined to grabens or the hanging wall of premineralization normal faults. Polymetallic massive sulphide deposits and active hydrothermal vents at medium- to fast-rate spreading centres (the East Pacific Rise at lat. 21°N, the Galapagos Spreading Centre at long. 86°W, the Juan de Fuca Ridge at lat. 45°N., and the Southern Trough of Guaymas Basin, Gulf of California) have interdeposit spacings on a scale of tens or hundreds of metres, and are spatially associated with structural ridges or grabens within the narrow (< 5 km) axial valleys of the rift zones. Although the most common substrate for massive sulphide accumulations is stacked sequences of pillow basalt and sheet flows, the sea-floor underlying numerous deposits in Guaymas Basin consists of diatomaceous ooze and terrigenous clastic sediment that is intruded by diabase sills. Mound-like massive sulphide deposits, as much as 30 m wide and 5m high, occur over actively discharging vents on the East Pacific Rise, and many of these deposits serve as the base for narrow chimneys and spires of equal or greater height. Sulphides on the Juan de Fuca Ridge appear to form more widespread blanket deposits in the shallow axial-valley depression. The largest deposit found to date, along the axial ridge of the Galapagos Spreading Centre, has a tabular form and a length of 1000 m, a width of 200 m, and a height of 30 m. The sulphide assemblage in both massive and vein mineralization in Cyprus type deposits is characteristically simple: abundant pyrite or, less commonly, pyrrhotite accompanied by minor marcasite, chalcopyrite, and sphalerite. With few exceptions, the composition of massive sulphide ranges from 0.3 to 5 wt. % Cu, from 0.1 to 3 wt. % Zn, from 0.5 to 30 ppm Au, and from 1 to 50 ppm Ag. The only common gangue minerals - quartz, chlorite, calcite, and gypsum generally make up less than 10 percent of the massive zone. Sulphide assemblages in massive sulphide samples recovered from the Juan de Fuca Ridge (abundant sphalerite, wurtzite, and pyrite; minor marcasite, chalcopyrite, and galena), East Pacific Rise (abundant sphalerite, pyrite, and chalcopyrite; minor wurtzite, marcasite, and pyrrhotite), and Guaymas Basin (abundant pyrrhotite and sphalerite; minor chalcopyrite) contrast with ophiolitic deposits. Bulk analyses of two zinc-rich sulphide samples from the Juan de Fuca Ridge yield the following average values: Zn, 56.6 wt. %; Cu, 0.2 wt. %; Pb, 0.15 wt. %; Fe, 4.9 wt. %; Ag, 260 ppm; and Cd, 775 ppm. Other minerals precipitated with sulphides at hydrothermal-vent sites include anhydrite, barite, gypsum, Mg-hydroxysulphate-hydrate, talc, sulphur, and amorphous silica. Massive sulphide lenses in some Cyprus-type deposits are underlain by a silica-rich zone consisting of massive quartz, opaline silica, red jasper, or chert mixed with disseminated and veinlet Fe-Cu-Zn sulphides. Some deposits are overlain by ochre, a gossanous Mn-poor Fe-rich bedded deposit composed of goethite, maghemite, quartz, and finely disseminated sulphide. In the Solomon Islands, ochre is overlain by siliceous sinter containing anhydrite, barite, and sulphide; the sinter contains anomalous Ag, Au, Cu, Zn, and Hg, and grades upward into Fe-rich chert and manganiferous wad. Amorphous Fe-Mn deposits (umber) and Mn-bearing chert enriched in Ba, Co, Cu, Ni, Cr, Pb, and Zn are common features near the top of ophiolite sequences. Although their genetic relation to sulphide mineralization is uncertian, they probably formed during off-axis hydrothermal discharge. At modern, medium-rate spreading centres, thin blankets of unconsolidated hydrothermal sediment have been observed near hydrothermal sulphide deposits. Basalt fragments recovered with massive sulphide from the Juan de Fuca Ridge have surfaces coated with smectite, magnetite, hematite, opaline silica, and Fe-Mn-oxyhydroxides. Sediment mounds composed largely of nontronitic clay and hydrated Fe and Mn oxides, and more distal metalliferous (Fe, Mn, Cu, Ni, Pb, Zn) sediment on the flanks of ceanridges, are also products of off-axis hydrothermal processes. Pillow lavas, diabase dikes, and gabbro in ophiolite sequences, and deeper, layer 2 basalt and diabase recovered from oceanic ridges, are altered to greenschist-facies assemblages (albite + chlorite + actinolite ± sphene ± quartz ± pyrite) during high-temperature sub-sea-floor hydro-thermal metamorphism near the axis of spreading. Chemical changes in the wall-rock during this large-scale sea-water/rock interactive episode depend on the water/rock ratio and temperature but generally include gains in Mg, Na and H2O and losses of Ca. Subsequent low temperature sea-water/rock interaction away from the axis of spreading results in fracture-controlled zeolitefacies alteration, characterized by smectite, caledonite, zeolite, calcite, prehnite, hematite, marcasite, and pyrite. This retrograde alteration involves increases in total Fe, K, and H2O and decreases in Mg and Si in the wallrock; Ca may be lost or gained. Wall-rock alteration in Cyprus type stockwork zones is more striking, in that the basalt and diabase between veins of Fe-Cu-Zn sulphides, quartz, and chlorite have undergone partial to complete conversion to fine-grained aggregates of quartz + chlorite + illite + pyrite; kaolinite and palygorskite may be present in minor amounts. Calcium and Na are strongly depleted; K, Al, Ti, Mn, and Ni are leached to a lesser extent; and Fe, S, Cu, Zn, and Co are strongly enriched in the wall-rock underlying massive sulphide. Mafic rocks at depth in the volcanic pile may be enriched in K, Rb, and Li, and depleted in Cu, Co, and Zn. Lavas lateral to and overlying massive sulphide mineralization may have low concentrations of Cu and high concentrations of Zn and Co relative to background levels. Mutual consideration of hydrothermal sulphide deposits and associated wall-rock alteration in ophiolites and at modern oceanic spreading centres can provide useful criteria for the development of regional exploration models for ophiolitic terrains.

R. A. Koski

Published Journal 
Journal of Geochemical Exploration, 1983




R. A. Koski. 1983. Sulphide Mineralization And Wall-Rock Alteration In Ophiolites And Modern Oceanic Spreading Centres. Journal of Geochemical Exploration. (!) .