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The old minerals grow are replaced by new ones because there has been a change in the conditions. These changes could be changes in temperature, pressure, or chemical conditions or any combination of these. Hydrothermal alteration is a change in the mineralogy as a result of interaction of the rock with hot water fluids, called “hydrothermal fluids”. The fluids carry metals in solution, either from a nearby igneous source, or from leaching out of some nearby rocks. Hydrothermal alteration is a common phenomena in a wide variety of geologic environments, including fault zones and explosive volcanic features. Hydrothermal fluids cause hydrothermal alteration of rocks by passing hot water fluids through the rocks and changing their composition by adding or removing or redistributing components. Temperatures can range from weakly elevated to boiling. Fluid composition is extremely variable. They may contain various types of gases, salts (briney fluids), water, and metals. The metals are carried as different complexes, thought to involve sulfur and chlorine. Sources of hydrothermal fluids are not well understood, however, there are three main possibilities that exist. One source can be the magmatic rocks themselves, which exsolve water (called “juvenile” water) during the final stages of cooling. In metamorphic terranes a potential source of the fluids is dehydration reactions which take place during the metamorphic event. With increasing temperature of metamorphism, early, low temperature, hydrous minerals recrystallize into new, higher temperature, anhydrous minerals. The excess water circulates through the surrounding rocks and may scavenge and transport metals to sites where they can be precipitated as ore minerals. Near surface groundwater is another source of water (called “meteoric” water). Evidence from some ore deposits suggests meteoric waters may mix with juvenile or metamorphic waters during late stages of mineralization. Hydrothermal fluids in plutonic settings are thought to circulate along a large scale convective path. It would be analogous to a pot of boiling water: hottest water rises fastest directly above the heat source, and at the surface changes flow direction to horizontal, and finally downwards along the sides of the pot. In a similar manner, hydrothermal fluids circulate upward and outward from an igneous intrusion at depth. Porous and permeable host rocks (those containing lots of interconnected pore spaces) allow this to happen more readily, for example, in a coarse-grained sandstone. Some types of rocks, like shale or slate, are extremely impermeable. A layer of shale can cause damming or ponding of the hydrothermal fluids, which can lead to a concentration of mineralization behind the impermeable barrier. Fluid migration can be also facilitated by the presence of lots of thin layers .
networks of veinlets. Alteration Zoning Although mineral zoning patterns are not uncommonly developed around ore deposits. can cause overprinting of lower temperature minerals by higher temperature minerals. and occasionally vuggy textures in some breccias. Faulting may develop breccia and gouge. can cause more complexity. The change in parameters over time. open space fractures and precipitate mineralization along the walls of the fracture. eventually filling it completely.Hydrothermal fluids also circulate along fractures and faults. they are not always present or obvious. A which has a welldeveloped fracture system may serve as an excellent host rock. The form of mineralization and alteration associated with faults is highly variable. fluid chemistry or gas content. . Structural deformation. Fault zones are excellent places for fluids to circulate and precipitate mineralization. which is often a good candidate for replacement style mineralization. such as when a rock shattering or faulting event affects the host rocks. such as decreasing temperature of the fluids. Veins form where the fluids flow through larger. and may include massive to fine-grained. The patterns can be caused by changes in temperature.
The core area contains “potassic” alteration in the form of potassium feldspar and biotite. Alteration zones associated with epithermal mineralization hosted in alkalic volcanic rocks. Concentric shell-shaped alteration zones and associated mineralization pattern (after Lowell and Guilbert model).Alteration zoning can occur in many different geometric forms. This example indicates an inner zone of silicification forms within a central breccia formation. Porphyry copper deposits are characterized by concentric shell-shaped zones of alteration. ranging from concentric shells. Alteration Mapping . as is the geometry. and an outer zone of propylitic alteration lies adjacent. The mineralogy is highly variable. which overlap to some extent Figure 8 – 1 A. B. The outermost zone. is characterized by the assemblage quartzchlorite-carbonate and locally containing epidote. Sericite is a common alteration mineral formed in zones along fault structures or fault zones in low to moderate temperature settings. Epithermal deposits associated with major structures (faults or fractures) have linear zones which parallel the structure. albite or adularia. Figure 8 – 1. to irregular and complex. called “propylitic”. to linear forms. One example of alteration zoning associated with a volcanic vent is shown in Figure 8 – 1 B. Further outward is a zone of “phyllic” alteration consisting of the assemblage quartz-sericite-pyrite. A.
It typically forms by the decomposition of feldspars. They usually form from the decomposition of Fe-Mg-bearing minerals. so it replaces feldspar. In practice however. as it is easily scratchable. The mineral assemblages can be coded using patterns or colors. Propylitic alteration will generally form in a distal setting relative to other alteration types. Mapping alteration can be used to predict mineralization. as evidenced by the typically sinuous. Sericitic alteration implies low pH (acidic) conditions. In the field. Actinolite) Propylitic alteration turns rocks green. disseminated pyrite which is directly associated with the alteration event. This style of alteration can form before complete crystallization of a magma. golden brown or greenish. this is done by comparing the results of alteration mapping with known alteration zoning patterns for known mineral deposits. amphibole or pyroxene. The intensity of alteration refers to how welldeveloped the alteration is. style and intensity. The style of alteration refers to the form. Epidote. Adularia) Potassic alteration is a relatively high temperature type of alteration which results from potassium enrichment. such as biotite. the process is seldom so simple because every mineral deposit has some uniqueness to its alteration zoning. although they can also replace feldspar. Propylitic alteration occurs at relatively low temperatures. or it may be pervasive throughout the rock.Alteration can be mapped graphically using patterns or colors in much the same way that lithologic units are mapped. Alteration consisting of sericite + quartz is called “phyllic” alteration. In theory. which is a very fine-grained white mica. which indicates that alteration is restricted to narrow zones adjacent to veinlets. and rather discontinuous vein patterns. Potassic alteration can occur in . Sericitic: (Sericite) Sericitic alteration alters the rock to the mineral sericite. which could be disseminated or massive or anything in between. actinolite and epidote. It could be incipient mineral growth due to weak development. Potassic: (Biotite. yellowish. These minerals include chlorite. Phyllic alteration associated with porphyry copper deposits may contain appreciable quantities of fine-grained. It also has a rather greasy feel (when present in abundance). The primary characteristics to note are the alteration mineralogy. indicating strong development. The following types are the most commonly described types: • • • Propylitic: (Chlorite. Another form of alteration is “veinlet-controlled”. and its color is white. K-feldspar. its presence in a rock can be detected by the softness of the rock. Alteration Types There are as many alteration types as there minerals. because the new minerals formed are green.
which are filled with quartz. Argillic alteration is generally a low temperature event. Greater porosity of a rock will facilitate this process. which results form replacement of the rock with microcrystalline quartz (chalcedony). or sodic plagioclase. Silicification can occur over a wide range of temperatures. Carbonate alteration can form zonal patterns around ore deposits with more iron-rich types occurring proximal to the deposit. Alunite is a potassium aluminum sulfate mineral which tends to form massive ledges in some areas. smectite and illite. The white mica paragonite (Na-rich) is also formed sometimes. One of the most common styles is called “silica flooding”. or in shallow. Albitic: (Albite) Albitic alteration forms albite. These are commonly formed in association with quartz. Alunitic: (Alunite) Alunitic alteration is closely associated with certain hot springs environments. The parallel veins are formed in the roof zone of a pluton and/or in the adjacent country rocks (if fractures are open). which is thought to result from the oxidation of sulfide minerals. and dolomite. some wallrocks can become completely replaced by new minerals similar to the ones forming the veins. The presence of alunite suggests high SO4 gas contents were present. Another common style of silicification is the formation of close-spaced fractures in a network. Silicification: (Quartz) Silicification is the addition of secondary silica (SiO2). Carbonatization is also usually associated with the addition of other minerals. Argillic: (Clay Minerals) Argillic alteration is that which introduces any one of a wide variety of clay minerals. A special subset of silication is a style of alteration called “greisenization”. Silica flooding and/or stockworks are sometimes present in the wallrock along the margins of quartz veins. including kaolinite.• • • • • • deeper plutonic environments.Quartz) Silication is a general term for the addition of silica by forming any type of silicate mineral. where orthoclase will be formed. ankerite. Its presence is usually an indication of Na enrichment. With intense veining. and some may occur in atmospheric conditions. some of which include talc. This type of alteration is also a relatively high temperature type of alteration. The most common are calcite. Carbonatization: (Carbonate Minerals) Carbonitization is a general term for the addition of any type of carbonate mineral. sericite and albite. The classic example is the replacement of limestone (calcium carbonate) by silicate minerals forming a “skarn”. which is a rock containing parallel veins of quartz + muscovite + other minerals (often tourmaline). volcanic environments where adularia is formed. The earliest signs of argillic . Examples include the formation of biotite or garnet or tourmaline. chlorite. or “stockworks”. This is the formation of a type of rock called “greisen”. Silication can occur over a wide range of temperatures. which usually form at the contact of igneous intrusions. Silicification is one of the most common types of alteration. Silication: (Silicate Minerals +/. and it occurs in many different styles.
The temperature range for oxidation is variable. Talc) Serpentinization forms serpentine.• • • alteration includes the bleaching out of feldspars. which recognized softness. Serpentinization and Talc Alteration: (Serpentine. Talc is very similar to the mineral serpentine. although substantial gold and silver credits occur locally. and 2) vein deposits not associated with porphyry base metal deposits. lead and zinc. It can occur at surface or atmospheric conditions. The presence of this assemblage suggests low pH (highly acidic) conditions. In volcanic environments. high grade types of deposits. The most common ones to form are hematite and limonite (iron oxides). These deposits generally fall in the category of low tonnage. These veins are characterized by a strong sense of zoning from high temperature minerals in proximal (closer to the pluton) portions of the veins. so they are generally formed during the waning stages of volcanic activity. Many have been mined for copper. and often massive habit. or it can occur as a result of having low to moderate fluid temperatures. where oxygen from the atmosphere is more readily available. This type of alteration is only common when the host rocks are mafic to ultramafic in composition. There are two broad categories: 1) vein deposits associated with porphyry base metal deposits. Serpentine is a relatively low temperature mineral. Sulfide minerals often weather easily because they are susceptible to oxidation and replacement by iron oxides. A special subcategory of argillic alteration is “advanced argillic”. These types of rocks have relatively higher iron and magnesium contents. waxy. Zeolite minerals are low temperature minerals. This consists of kaolinite + quartz + hematite + limonite. Zoned Vein Deposits Zoned vein deposits are deposits which form along fractures and faults as openspace fillings or replacements. Zoned vein deposits which are associated with porphyry base metal deposits appear to form at lower temperatures during a later mineralization event. Talc alteration indicates a higher concentration of magnesium was available during crystallization. Oxides form most easily in the surface or near surface environment. but many different types can form. depending on the metals which are present. feldspars leached and altered to sericite. At higher temperatures. but its appearance is slightly different (pale to white). They are generally polymetallic. but it can occur at considerable distances from these. in nearsurface environments. the zeolite minerals replace the glass matrix. to low . Oxidation: (Oxide Minerals) Oxidation is simply the formation of any type of oxide mineral. the mineral pyrophyllite (white mica) forms in place of kaolinite. greenish appearance. Zeolitic: (Zeolite Minerals) Zeolitic alteration is often associated with volcanic environments.
Zoned vein deposits which are not associated with porphyry base metal deposits are characterized by having moderate. Distal portions of the veins are characterized by propylitic alteration adjacent to the vein which gives rise to fresh unaltered rock further away from the vein. Figure 8 – 2. Zoning in these types of vein deposits is usually a function changes in the fugacity of sulfur along the length of the vein. alteration halos adjacent to the veins change dramatically along the length of the vein and with increasing distance from the central porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit (Figure 8 – 2).temperature minerals in distal (far away) portions of the veins. . Distal portions of the same veins are lead-zinc-rich and contain sulfide minerals with lower metal:sulfur ratios. Example of proximal and distal zoning of base metal vein deposit of the type associated with porphyry copper/molybdenum deposits. Proximal portions of the veins are copper-rich and contain sulfide minerals with high metal:sulfur ratios. more uniform temperatures over a larger area. Montana. At Butte. Proximal portions of the veins are characterized by advanced argillic alteration adjacent to the vein which is superceded outwards by sericitic alteration.
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