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Gold Exploration in Tropical Landscapes
Part 5: Dispersion of Gold in Deposits Exposed to Weathering

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Tropical Gold Geochemistry ... | Gold Fineness ... | Supergene Enrichment ... | Oxidized Ore ... |
Review #5 ...

Tropical Gold Geochemistry
Session Headings: Historical Research in Tropical Gold Geochemistry

You will cover the following points in Part 5: Dispersion of
Gold in Deposits Exposed to Weathering.
historical research in tropical gold
the Bre-X fraud
the future of tropical gold
gold dispersion factors
gold dissolution
gold ligands in the regolith
the amount of sulphides
present in the gold
mineralized system
water table fluctuation
chloride ion ligands in arid
organic ligands in surface
chelating agents in plant
mechanical dispersion
gold fineness
gold grains in lateritized gold systems
gold grain morphology
secondary gold precipitation
the mushroom effect of gold in the
regolith profile
supergene gold enrichment in laterite
sigmoidal gold curve along the regolith


Berlin. economic gold deposits is due to exploration company confidentiality. short courses and workshops being held globally. Strasbourg. MRDU Short Course #21 (1997): Exploration Geochemistry of Tropical Environments. Townsville. primary gold deposits.1993): Exploration for concealed gold deposits.) lateritized gossans oxidized ore oxidation of epithermal gold deposits Historical Research in Tropical Gold Geochemistry (See Summary for main points) Considering that laterite regolith covers one third of the earth's land surface.htm 2/17 . extended abstracts. 5th international meeting.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. Most of the studies published on tropical gold geochemistry are from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. Third International Symposium on the Geochemistry of the Earth Surface and Mineral Formation (1993): Chemical Geology Special Issue. 9th international meeting. Vol. 468 pp. 379 pp. Australia. including the following. Kalgoorlie. Canada 17th International Geochemical Exploration Symposium (1995): Exploring the Tropics. 75 pp. with projects. Eds. Vancouver. EUROLAT (European Network on Tropical Laterites and Global Environment) 1991: Supergene ore deposits and mineral formation. reaching a height from 1990 to 1997. The general lack of publicly available data on tropical gold geochemistry concerning large. BC. Germany Second International Symposium on the Geochemistry of the Earth http://www. CRCLEME conference (1998): Regolith '98: New Approaches to an Old Continent. Western Australia Smith et al (1992): Laterite Geochemistry for Detecting Concealed Mineral Deposits. There are a several early key papers on gold dispersion. there is a limited amount of research published on gold dispersion in the regolith for deeply weathered. Lynda Bloom.edumine. 107 CSIRO/AMIRA Regolith Geochemistry Projects (1987. PDAC Short Course (1994): Prospecting in Tropical and Arid Terrains. Western Australia. Summary Report for CSIRO-AMIRA Project P240 covering period 1987 to 1991. Emmons (1917)).com/xutility/html/print. Yilgarn Block. Kaylene and Camuti. Australia. Yilgarn Craton. Eds. EUROLAT 1997: Weathering Processes: Mineral deposits and soil formation in tropical environments. Ed. 170 pp. Germany. attempting to explain gold concentration zones that occur within the laterite regolith of primary gold deposits exposed to tropical climates (Penrose (1894). Britt and Bettenay.

edumine. John Wiley & Sons. Canadian Mineralogist Special Publication 3. an Introduction by D. In July 1995 the Northern Miner ran an article that Bre-X had proven reserves of 2. Vol. Boulangé and F. a number of excellent books were published at this same time on tropical weathering.htm 3/17 . In February of 1997. Tardy. 379–401 Ch 16: Geochemistry and Evolution of Lateritic Landscapes by Y. 607 pp Although valuable locally. outbid other suitors. p. also in Indonesia. Volume 4: Regolith Exploration Geochemistry in Tropical and Subtropical Terrains. http://www. Soils and Landforms by Ollier and Pain (1997). one of the world's largest producers of copper and gold and holding company of the giant Grasberg Cu-Au porphyry mine. edited by I. Chesworth—in particular. E. 516 pp Regolith. 316 pp Developments in Earth Surface Processes 2 (1993) Weathering.) Surface and Mineral Formation (1990): Chemical Geology Special Issue. Tardy and C. Elsevier.R. Bre-X Fraud (See Summary for main points) In 1993. Atlas of Micromorphology of Mineral Alteration and Weathering by J. Butt and H. Nahon. geologist John Felderhof.com/xutility/html/print. the following three chapters: Ch 15: Diversity and Terminology of Laterite Profiles by Y. Freeport-McMoRan. conclusions from Western Australian research on gold dispersion are drawn from studies on regolith environments that have undergone a different climatic history than the rest of the tropical regions.P. Zeegers. making the Australian case studies perhaps less comparable to laterized gold systems in tropical rainforests. Indonesia. Delvigne (1998).4 million ounces (Moz) of gold in the ground at Busang. began promoting their Busang gold project in Borneo. By May 1996 the stock price for Bre-X had risen to an incredible $285 (Canadian dollars). Colin. called Bre-X. The vice president of exploration for Bre-X. p. B. was heard boasting at PDAC in 1996 that they had the world's largest gold deposit with well over 100 Moz of gold (Goold and Willis (1997)).M. by C. a mineral exploration company based in Calgary. such as in the Guiana and Amazonia Shield in South America and the Birimian Shield and Congo Craton of West and Central Africa.B. a Kilborn engineering report stated that Busang contained 70 Moz of gold. Soils & Paleosols. Shortly thereafter.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. p. Martini and W. 445–467 Handbook of Exploration Geochemistry (1992). 407–437 Ch 17: Metallogeny of Weathering. Roquin. including the following. 84 As well.

exploration funds dried up and research on gold behaviour in tropically weathered gold deposits lost its glitter. The QP should be a reputable professional geoscientist or engineer who has knowledge of the mineral property concerned and who has a minimum of 5 years' experience in the mineral commodity and is qualified to make the statements in the report. the exploration geologist today is facing a generational knowledge gap with regard to the tropical geochemistry of gold. At its peak. rounded and abraded grains with silver rims that were found only in the coarse reject samples assayed by Bre-X. Tropical Gold Geochemistry: Looking Ahead (See Summary for main points) http://www. Michael de Guzman. a number of unnecessary new terms and categories have been proposed. to do a deal with Bre-X to acquire Busang. To protect the Canadian investor from future similar fraud. Following the Bre-X scandal of 1997. 1997. A body was recovered in the jungle over time. The instrument also requires that a qualified person (QP) sign off on the information. Freeport knew they were looking at sample tampering leading to false assay results at Busang. the Canadian Institute of Mining (CIM) has created the National Instrument (NI) 43-101. Shortly thereafter. confidence in gold exploration at tropical latitudes dropped around the globe. fell from a helicopter. With the resurgence in tropical gold exploration. investors lost an astounding 3 billion dollars. which outlines the standards required for disclosure (such as Company news releases and announcements of resource calculations) of mineral projects. Strathcona Mineral Services presented an independent report documenting the Busang fraud: the drill core samples had been carefully and systematically salted with alluvial gold grains to produce the amazing gold assay results that provided the basis for the resource calculations. Freeport drilled twin holes and collected duplicate samples. Investigation of the gold grains in the original samples showed large. It would take close to a decade to bounce back again. Bre-X was worth six billion dollars.edumine. The Bre-X stock price fell rapidly with this news. driven by high gold price and a multitude of recent primary gold discoveries in the tropics (as noted in Primary Gold Discoveries in the Tropics: Table 1).10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. Most of what is in the literature today dates to at least twenty years ago and there has been a lack of common terminology amongst these researchers. in the stock market crash that followed the news of the fraud.) including Placer Dome and Barrick. Prior to Freeport's due diligence evaluation of the Busang site. the chief geologist for Bre-X. but it was mostly eaten by wild pigs and not recognizable.com/xutility/html/print. By the end of March. As well. whereas the new drill core samples contained little gold and it was fine-grained.htm 4/17 .

Figures of laterite regolith profiles used in gold dispersion studies of lateritized primary gold deposits should include.com/xutility/html/print. as core loss is common in the clay rich horizons of the laterite regolith. as well as laterally and vertically through the regolith. clearly differentiate each of the individual regolith horizons present. Gold Dispersion Factors (See Summary for main points) As is the case in nature. each gold deposit displays a unique set of geochemical characteristics. sampling roadcuts. the chemical processes responsible for gold dispersion can be identified and gold enrichment and depletion zones within the regolith can often be predicted. pit and trench) to know which regolith horizon to sample. determine position during wet and dry season) position of weathering front (oxidation front) at depth location of test samples (pore water. gold ligands in the regolith. and regolith landform regimes (residual. the entire regolith. What is helpful for the gold exploration geologist is that with knowledge of a certain set of gold dispersion factors for their gold project site. from the weathering front at depth to the surface soils. whenever possible. open pit bench exposures and mine adits. both at surface in the soil geochemistry.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. This is critical in geochemical sampling in field surveys (soil sampling. Gold dispersion factors include: gold dissolution. The variety in parent rock material. soil or regolith) plotted along the regolith profile pH conditions (if possible) use scale bars to indicate thicknesses of zones Sometimes the researcher has to be resourceful and creative to be able to sample from as many of the regolith horizons as possible in one project area.edumine. auger. erosional. but for the upper horizons. paleoclimatic history. gold mineralization style.) The revival of tropical gold geochemistry should start with common ground. drill core is often unreliable. depositional) of the gold deposit will all differ from project to project. This could be achieved through pitting. http://www. including the overlying A and B soil horizons position of water table (if possible. and contain the following. and drill core to be able to thoroughly sample along a regolith that may reach one hundred meters or more in thickness. Drill core data can be useful for determining depth of oxidation (weathering front).htm 5/17 .

organic ligands in surface soils.com/xutility/html/print. cyanide (CN-). Gold-ligand complexes are weak at first in the lower saprolite. water table fluctuation. or ligands.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. in more oxidizing and acidic waters. in different parts of the regolith profile. where pH conditions are near neutral. hydroxyl complexes are the first to act on exposed gold grains (Bowell et al. and fulvic acid (an organic acid). organic component. Gold-ligand complexes are also active in the upper A and B soil horizons. before dropping the gold back into solid state. At the very base of the weathering front. then become increasingly stable higher up in the saturated part of the regolith. thiosulphate (S2O22-). Colin et al. chloride ion ligands in arid regions. are proposed to explain gold dissolution and mobility in the lateritic weathering crust of a gold mineralized system hosted in the bedrock. strength and actions of these ligands depend on the climatic zone of the system. Gold dissolves by forming complexes with certain ligands that can temporarily bring a small part of the gold particle into solution. porosity is lowest and sulphides have not yet begun to oxidize. The ligands most likely responsible for gold complexing are: hydroxide (OH-). chelating agents in plant roots. The presence.) the amount of sulphides present in the gold mineralized system. (1993). and are able to disperse the newly formed gold particles a little further away from the source. the Eh-pH conditions and water table position and fluctuation within the regolith.edumine. forming weak complexes with gold that are unstable. Gold dissolution (See Summary for main points) Gold dissolves? Yes it can. http://www. (1993). chloride (Cl-). and mechanical dispersion.htm 6/17 . Porto and Hale (1995)). Gold ligands in the regolith (See Summary for main points) A number of gold complexes. Any given gold deposit exposed in tropical climatic conditions will have several of these ligands at work at once.

porosity is highest. The increase in natural acidity from the sulphides being oxidized will also ultimately have an effect on the overall thickness of the regolith forming over the gold deposit: proximal to the mineralized zone. Oxidation of sulphides. The presence of sulphides in the system correlates to an increase in production of thiosulfate complexes. moving the gold into solution. This chemical dispersal will only go as far as these acidic conditions exist. or galena and sphalerite begins. there is likely to be a thicker regolith developed than further away from the deposit. oxidation of the pyrite.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. which in turn dissolve and mobilize gold faster.edumine. hydroxyl complexes may help to strengthen the thiosulfate Au complex. which helps to accelerate hydrolysis (breakdown of silicates into clays). the re-precipitated. which is in and around the primary gold mineralized system. acidic rainwater infiltrates the regolith and enters the groundwater system.com/xutility/html/print. Therefore. and fine secondary gold particles are dispersed. fine-grained secondary gold occurs very near to and/or within the primary gold system. At first. along with the laterite and overlying upper soil horizons. dispersing gold further away from the primary source. ferrolysis is complete and most of the gold is now mobilized and in solution as gold-thiosulfate complexes. Amount of sulphides in gold system (See Summary for main points) When exposed to the weathering process. With daily and seasonal water table fluctuations. The lower mottled zone is a zone of extreme leaching. continues to create acidic reactions. Here. In the upper saprolite (USAP) or pallid zone. gold complexes in the upper saprolite are leached. a sulphidic ore body tends to develop a zonal arrangement of different mineral associations which reflect various degrees of oxidation (Sato (1960)). Here. still within the saturated zone and directly below the water table. which begin to bond with gold. and keeping it there a little longer so that groundwaters may disperse the gold laterally a few centimetres before it re-precipitates. hydrolysis has broken down the silicates into clays. or ferrolysis. increased sulphides equal higher gold mobility in the regolith.htm 7/17 . while thiosulfate ligands continue to reduce primary gold particles. creating increasingly acidic conditions (lowering pH) and producing thiosulfate ligands. At depth in the regolith. conditions are extremely acidic and oxygenated. but pH conditions at the base of the oxidation front are not acidic enough to retain gold in solution and it is quickly re-precipitated. arsenopyrite.) In the lower saprolite (LSAP) horizon. The resulting chemical reactions release H+ ions and sulphates. Water table fluctuations (See Summary for main points) The mottled zone (MZ) is positioned above the water table. http://www.

Chloride ions as ligands (See Summary for main points) In arid areas. Gold co-precipitates in the mottles with the ferruginization process. Thus equilibrium exists between formation of biomass and decomposition of organic matter that is similar to that found in temperate forests. Am. where decomposition is rapid and associated organic acid activity is high. high concentrations of chloride ion exist in saline groundwater due to low rainfall and strong evaporation. (1993)). the chloride ion is a very likely candidate for a gold ligand (Mann (1984)). Many red and yellow soils in the tropical rainforest climate. In the upper soil horizons. But decomposition rates in the tropical soils are much higher than for temperate regions. These mottles harden (indurated) into concretions of goethite and kaolinite. upper mottles become incorporated into the base of the laterite horizon. and tropical monsoon climate. The main reason for this is the absence of a direct relationship between a dark brown colour and organic carbon content.edumine. As the regolith profile lowers over time. Af.com/xutility/html/print. the savanna. FA forms colloidal particles that are highly mobile. where aqueous iron changes into solid iron oxides and hydroxides (hematite and goethite) in the upper mottled zone. such as the Yilgarn Block in Western Australia. Aw (Nahon (1991)). organic matter contents in tropical soils are not very different from those in the temperate region. because temperatures are so high in the tropics. actually have higher organic carbon content than black clay-rich soils found in the drier end of tropical forests. This intermediate complex is then slowly reduced by fulvic acid to a gold-fulvate colloid. organic ligands dominate in the upper soil horizons. Combined with low pH conditions near the top of the water table.) The oxidizing environment at the water table results in a process called ferruginization. FA colloids bind easily with gold in acidic (pH=2 to 6) conditions (Bowell et al. Humic acids are often not considered in the dissolution of gold because humic acid http://www. chloride ions form complexes with gold and silver.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. For tropical rainforest (Af) and monsoon climates (Am) with thick vegetation. possibly another hydroxyl complex. In arid conditions. Tropical forests produce about five times as much biomass and soil organic matter per year as comparable temperate forests (Nahon (1991)). The binding mechanism of the FA colloid involves an initial formation of a gold complex. fulvic acid (FA) is the dominant ligand. Organic ligands in surface soils (See Summary for main points) Contrary to commonly held views.htm 8/17 . which means a lot of binding sites for chemical reactions. Colloids have exceptionally high surface area.

some plant roots exude acids to lower soil pH. or amino acids or hydroxamate siderophores (produced by symbiotic micro-organisms). These acids act as chelating agents to dissolve metal ions into solution for their uptake as nutrients for the plant. Chelating agents produced by plant roots are likely intended to target and release a specific group of plant nutrient ions from the soil and transmit them in complexed form to the root. (1993)). Those metals that are transported but not accepted gather in an accumulation zone around the rootlets in the B Horizon. Cyanide is another organic ligand associated with near-surface dispersion of gold particles. Many non-nutrient elements including Au and Ag can also be complexed by the same organic chelating agents. http://www. yet excluded from plant uptake by ion selective root membranes. which only accept those metals that are essential to plant nutrients. hydrous oxides of Fe and Mn.) is only soluble in bases. in some cases aided by fungi living on the roots. Gold thiosulfate is not appreciably absorbed by plants. Many bacteria oxidize thiosulfate and are present in most surficial environments. Those ions (such as Al. Gold is readily dissolved in the presence of thiocyanate ion. amorphous silica and gypsum. Chelating agents in plant roots (See Summary for main points) In the A soil horizon. either dissociated or desorbed from the organic complexes in the reducing environments characteristic of the lower B soil horizon. such as calcite. especially in acid solutions. As. while most tropical soils tend to be acidic. The chelating agent binds strongly to a metal ion and the resulting chelate is drawn to the plant roots. In the case of essential nutrients.com/xutility/html/print. Some concentrations become oversaturated and mineral precipitation can occur.edumine. a thin zone of depletion develops around the roots.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. gold complexes are formed in the A soil horizon and leached by percolating meteoric waters to accumulate in the lower B soil horizon. The bacteria Thiobacillus ferroxidans obtains its energy by oxidation of thiocyanate to sulphate. This makes the B soil horizon the ideal sampling medium in soil surveys. Au and Ag) are dissolved by the same chelating agents. a process that occurs in the decomposition phases that yield hydrogen cyanide at the base of the O and in the A soil horizon (Bowell et al. which promotes dissolution and diffusion of these ions towards the root. In the upper soil horizons. Cyanide is a product of the breakdown of organisms. The gold is released. such as Zn and Fe. Chelating agents can be organic acids such as citric acid. carbonate and ammonia. where the metal ions are absorbed from soil solution into the root surface. and are thus mobilized in the regolith by the same process (Gilkes (1999)).htm 9/17 . which takes place in the B horizon beneath it.

The climate is tropical savanna Aw. containing a mottled zone and an iron crust at the top (as is expected in Aw). as oxidation of sulphides aids the release of thiosulfate complexes. with the heavy rains characteristic of tropical latitudes.edumine. collecting in pockets and potentially forming placer deposits. with annual precipitation of 1. The laterite regolith is about 40 m thick. water and gravity results in the further lateral and vertical dispersion of gold particles at the Earth's surface. Gold systems with low sulphide content will have a less pronounced dispersal of gold within the regolith.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. chemical. Resistant gold in quartz vein fragments settle through the upper soil horizons below into the laterite and enter the stone line. gold grains may be dispersed across the surface by sheet wash. of the cerrado type. mottled zone. laterite.800 mm.com/xutility/html/print. chelating agents and physical spreading and settling of gold particles. The stone line is found high up in the laterite profile and contains residual gold-in-quartz vein fragments. shows gold dispersion of weathered primary gold system in the laterite regolith of Af climate.) Figure 3.htm 10/17 . and soils. lateritic weathering processes that take place in the saprolite. Meteoric waters infiltrate and percolate the upper soil horizons of the laterite regolith. concentrated in the months of October to April. Exposure of lateritized gold deposits to nature's elements of wind. An example of the mechanical dispersion of gold is the Posse deposit in Central Brazil (Porto and Hale (1995)). This effect of gold dispersion becomes more pronounced in mineralized systems that are rich in sulphides. Gold distribution in the regolith is the result of ligands. at right. Mechanical dispersion (See Summary for main points) Wide dispersion halos of gold at surface are first and foremost the result of the deep. For example. http://www. to recharge the groundwater table with oxygen-rich and slightly acidic waters.

... | Supergene Enrichment ..10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc...com/xutility/html/print.edumine.. | Gold Fineness .) Continue with Gold Fineness Tropical Gold Geochemistry . Gold Exploration in Tropical Landscapes .January 24.. | Review #5 . | Oxidized Ore .Figure 1 http://www..htm 11/17 . 2014 Tropical Gold Geochemistry ..

) Figure 1: The story of Bre-X should never be forgotten as its effects are still felt today.htm 12/17 . Tropical Gold Geochemistry .10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. Investors remain wary of gold projects in Indonesia and elsewhere in tropical jungles.com/xutility/html/print.edumine. Young geologists entering the field today are not familiar with tropical gold geochemistry due to a lack of research funding following this deceit (Bre-X book: Goold and Willis (1997)).Figure 2 http://www.

Voormeij) Tropical Gold Geochemistry .htm 13/17 .) Figure 2: Idealized regolith profile indicating (hypothetical) location of samples collected.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc.Figure 3 http://www.com/xutility/html/print. note the difference in regolith thickness over the quartzite and the shale and that the weathering front has a different contact depending on rock type: straight over quartzite and wavy over the shale (source: D.edumine.

com/xutility/html/print.Figure 4 http://www.) Figure 3: Gold dispersion of weathered primary gold system in the laterite regolith of Af climate (source: D.edumine. Voormeij) Tropical Gold Geochemistry .htm 14/17 .10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc.

all set in a goethitic-kaolinitic clay matrix (Porto and Hale (1995)). scattered pisoliths and rare iron crust fragments.edumine.com/xutility/html/print.htm 15/17 . It is comprised of ferruginized quartz fragments.Figure 5 http://www.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. above the ferruginous zone.) Figure 4: In this cross section of the Posse gold deposit in the tropical savanna "cerrado" of Brazil.5 to 1 m thick. Tropical Gold Geochemistry . the regolith profile on the right shows the stone line is a semicontinuous horizon 0.

gold particles.) Figure 5: Schematic representation of lateritic lowering over time. if this happens then use your browser Print Preview and Shrink-to-Fit to print these tables individually from the table window http://www.com/xutility/html/print.edumine. and duricrust fragments (Porto and Hale (1995)) Note: large tables may be truncated by this print process. pisoliths.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc.htm 16/17 . resulting in a regolith profile that contains lateritized quartz vein fragments.

Fe.) Table 1: Nutrient and non-nutrient metals for plants Biologically essential for plants Non-essential for plants Si. Ag. Sb Table 1: Nutrient and non-nutrient metals for plants (Gilkes (1999)) http://www. Zn Al. U.10/20/2014 Copyright EduMine (division of InfoMine Inc. As. Au. Mn.edumine. Ni. Cu.htm 17/17 .com/xutility/html/print. Pb. Co.