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Gossan (16 cm x 9 cm) BHP mine, Broken Hill, NSW. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. The region above the water-table in an ore deposit is known as the oxidised zone as it is the zone of oxidation of the primary ore minerals. This oxidised zone is primarily composed of mixtures of iron oxides/hydroxides and quartz which we call gossan. Most primary ore minerals (particularly the sulfide minerals) are only stable in anaerobic dry environments. With the rise and fall of the water-table and downward percolating rainwater (containing dissolved oxygen), these minerals dissolve and new minerals (oxide zone minerals) are precipitated in the gossan. With the dissolution of sulfide minerals, the water becomes acidic, further enhancing the dissolution of the ore. Most of the spectacular minerals we see from ore deposits are those formed in the oxidised zone. When the oxidised zone is well developed and the secondary minerals sufficiently concentrated, it is a highly profitable zone to mine as the processing is much cheaper and easier and the metals more concentrated. However, most oxidised zones have been mined in the past because they formed outcrops of easily identifiable stained gossans. The most common minerals found in oxidised zones are:
• • • • • • • •
Copper: malachite, azurite, chrysocolla Gangue minerals: quartz (usually cryptocrystalline), baryte, calcite, aragonite Iron: goethite, hematite Lead: anglesite, cerussite Manganese: pyrolusite, romanechite, rhodochrosite Nickel: gaspeite, garnierite Silver: native silver, chlorargyrite Zinc: smithsonite
Immediately below the oxidised zone is sometimes a zone known as the supergene zone where metals are deposited by fluids percolating downwards from the oxidised zone and concentrating in a narrow band just below the water table. The supergene zone is the richest part of an ore deposit but in many instances, is either only very thin or not developed at all. The most common minerals found in supergene zones are:
Copper: chalcocite, bornite Lead: supergene galena
native silver Zinc: supergene sphalerite.• • • Nickel: violarite Silver: acanthite. . Most of the world's nickel. The largest deposits of platinum-group elements and chromium come from the 2055 million year old Bushveld Complex of northern South Africa. Coolac.e. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. wurtzite Top Classification and types of mineral deposits Geologists classify mineral deposits in many different ways. chromium and platinum-group elements are derived from these deposits. These deposits include: Orthomagmatic deposits are those that form from primary magmatic processes (i. New South Wales. They are hosted in the igneous rocks in which they have formed. magmas). Orthomagmatic deposits include: • • • • • • • chromium titanium iron nickel copper platinum-group elements diamonds Massive chromitite (9.5 cm x 6 cm) Vulcan mine. according to the: • • • • commodity being mined tectonic setting in which the deposit occurs geological setting of the mineral deposit genetic model for the origin of the ore deposit The most commonly used scheme is the genetic classification scheme.
Coolac.5 cm x 5. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Western Australia. Vulcan mine. North West Province. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. New South Wales. New South Wales. South Africa. Mariners mine. Pentlandite+Pyrrhotite+Pyrite nickel sulfide ore (14 cm x 10 cm). Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Merensky Reef Platinum ore (14.Orbicular chromitite (8 cm x 4. Chromitite breccia (6 cm x 5 cm). south of Widgiemooltha. .5 cm) Rustenburg District.5 cm) Barraba. 600 m level. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum.
rich in water. Some of these deposits occur as pipe-like bodies or breccia pipes. Pneumatolytic and pegmatitic deposits are formed from volatile-rich (i. boron) high-temperature fluids emanating from igneous intrusions. north of Steelpoort.5 cm x 8.e. These include the two main types of gold deposits epithermal and lode gold deposits along with replacement deposits in calcareous sequences (Mississippi Valley deposits). South Africa.5 cm). Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Torrington.UG2 Platinum ore (8 cm x 7 cm) Driekop Farm. base-metal vein deposits and replacement skarn deposits . Photo: Stuart Humphreys • • • • • • • tin rare-earth elements tantalum beryllium lithium molybdenum tungsten Hydrothermal deposits cover a wide range of different deposits types but all form from hot circulating water-rich fluids. New South Wales. These are important sources for: Cassiterite vein in granite (15. Elliot mine. fluorine. Cow Flat.
copper and base metals are of this type. mercury. Important deposits of gold. Cobar. Queensland. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum.5 cm) 28' Level. NBHC mine. New South Wales. New South Wales. As many ore deposits formed many hundreds to thousands of millions of years ago.Cobar copper ore (chalcopyrite+pyrrhotite) (11 cm x 9 cm) E orebody. Banded galena/sphalerite Pb-Zn ore (20 cm x 23 cm) Mount Isa. These have formed on the ocean floor by circulating hydrothermal fluids emanating from a volcanic vent which leach metals from the surrounding volcanic rocks. Many of the ore components were . antimony.5 cm x 6. CSA mine. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. many have experienced numerous episodes of deformation and metamorphism which left them with few characteristics of their original form. Broken Hill. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. The largest deposits of this type are known as kuroko or volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits (commonly abbreviated as VMS deposits). Volcanic or extrusive deposits are associated with volcanic processes and are only found within the volcanic rocks themselves. They are currently forming on the sea floor and these are commonly referred to as black smokers. Top Remobilisation of ore deposits Broken Hill Pb-Zn ore (12.
e.3 g/T).remobilised (i. mostly steeply-plunging near-vertical structures and are sulfide-deficient. Canada. most Archaean lode gold deposits occur in the Norseman-Wiluna greenstone belt of Western Australia (this includes the famous Kalgoorlie Golden Mile containing the Super Pit. moved) either by physical (i. dissolution and precipitation) mechanisms. 500' level. South Africa. These gold deposits are generally of large tonnage (millions of tonnes). confined to very narrow. In Australia. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Top Archaean gold deposits Witwatersrand gold reef ore (9 cm x 5 cm).e. . faulted and metamorphosed. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Over 60% of this comes from the Witwatersrand of South Africa (a hydrothermally remobilised palaeoplacer gold deposit) and the remainder from Archaean lode gold deposits in Australia. Western Australian Archaean lode gold ore (8 cm x 5 cm). southern Africa and South America.e. It has undergone numerous episodes of deformation and metamorphism with the ore bodies themselves being strongly folded. an open-cut gold operation that has dimensions of 3 km x 1 km x 1 km). the largest of which is the Superior Province of Canada which has produced more than 170 million ounces of gold (a troy ounce is 31.1 grams). deformation) or chemical (i. City Deeps mine. The Broken Hill lode in far western New South Wales is an excellent example of this. Kalgoorlie. The Rand. 8000' level.5 . The Archaean granite-greenstone belts of the world are characterised by numerous lode gold deposits. They are confined to the volcanic-intrusivesedimentary sequences of the greenstone belts and not the granites. and low-grade (commonly 1. Great Boulder mine. Johannesburg. Archaean gold deposits account for more than 60% of the world's gold.
the El Indio deposit of Chile contains 120 000 tons at 250g/T and 3.260° C. The hydrothermal fluids themselves are derived from deeper subvolcanic or plutonic rocks. Top Epithermal gold deposits These deposits are related to convergent-margin tectonic settings such as that of the Andes. The main ore minerals are: Epithermal gold ore (8 cm x 5 cm). In general.g. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. The ore itself most commonly occurs in veins. most commonly collapsed craters and calderas. They are ancient volcanic structures. They are volcanic-hosted deposits (consisting of both subvolcanics and sub-aerial pyroclastics) that are generally relatively recent in age (e. and the gold is usually associated with zones of silicification. Most of the ore in these deposits is of the disseminated type with the gold mineralisation generally being invisible to the naked eye. fracturing of the host rock occurs under high fluid pressures and these fractures then act as channel-ways for the hydrothermal fluids. • native gold and silver .g. Fergussen Island. Wopolu.2 million tons at 12. and quartz pseudomorphs after calcite are characteristic of these deposits. stockworks and replacement zones. 350 m).There is a very strong structural control to Archaean lode gold deposits with most being related to regional fault systems. South America. The gold mineralisation usually occurs at the contact between the veins and wallrocks. Hydrothermal alteration of the volcanic host rocks is a characteristic of these deposits. Epithermal gold deposits occur over a considerable length (tens of kilometres) but are of limited vertical extent (on average. Initially. they are small (less than a million tons) but rich (up to 500g/T) deposits which consist of vein systems and bonanza ores (e. The formation of these deposits is linked to regional-scale processes at mid-crustal levels during regional metamorphism. Mesozoic to the present-day). Epithermal gold deposits essentially form by the boiling and mixing of primary hydrothermal fluids at temperatures of 230° C . Papua New Guinea.3g/T). The ore minerals are generally fine-grained. breccia zones.
Iron ores of this type are commonly termed the banded iron formation or simply abbreviated as BIF All ore minerals in these deposits are oxides and hydroxides. manganite and hausmannite. opal. As they are very ancient.the whole mass is sometimes mined. amethyst. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Northern Territory. They are believed to have formed as chemical precipitates on the floor of the shallow oceanic basins in a highly oxidising environment. Manganese ore (pisolitic) (10 cm x 9 cm) Groote Eylandt. Western Australia.5 cm x 6. The iron and manganese ores occur as distinct sedimentary layers alternating with iron and manganese-poor sedimentary layers . . Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. These deposits are believed to have formed in shallow marine basins and are confined to Proterozoic rock sequences. chalcedony and cristobalite Top Sedimentary iron ore and manganese deposits Banded iron formation (13. most of these deposits have been intensely deformed and metamorphosed.• • • electrum acanthite and tetrahedrite silica occurring as quartz (most often forming comb-like aggregates). The most common iron ore minerals are hematite. Pilbara region.5 cm). lepidocrocite and goethite while the most common manganese ore minerals are braunite. These deposits are very large in size (thousands of millions of tons) and are usually mined by open-cut methods. Most of the world's iron and manganese are derived from deposits of this type.
illite and montmorillonite. it must be resistant to weathering and erosion and have a relatively high specific gravity. such as where a river changes its speed or in river bends. • • • Alluvial: Detrital material which is transported by a river and usually deposited along the river's pathway. Colluvial: Weathered material transported by gravity action such as on scree slopes. During transport of this material. Recently formed marine placer deposits of rutile. Top Placer deposits These are made of alluvial. Eluvial: Weathered material still at or near its point of formation. These are very important as they are our main source for the elements titanium and zirconium. Top Clay deposits These either form by settling of clay particles in sedimentary basins or through intense weathering of volcanic and granitic rocks. colluvial and eluvial material.Bog Iron ore was formerly mined in Europe hundreds of years ago when the large iron ore deposits had not been discovered. The placer deposits usually form from primary deposits in which the ore mineral is widely disseminated and uneconomic. gemstones. with the world's largest gold deposit. Useful clay types include: . platinum. either in the riverbed itself or on its floodplain. Concentration occurs when the surrounding rock is eroded away and the heavy ore mineral becomes concentrated by erosional processes. monazite and zircon. It consists of iron hydroxide (goethite) deposited in swamps and lakes as a product of bacterial action. Fossil placer deposits are also of great importance. an excellent example. monazite and zircon are currently being exploited along the coast of eastern Australia. The most common placer deposits are those of gold. They generally occur as lens-shaped bodies and are most commonly mined by open-cut methods. The most common clay minerals mined are kaolinite. the Witwatersrand reefs of South Africa. rutile. which contain economic quantities of some valuable minerals. concentration can occur within depressions. For a mineral to be concentrated in a placer deposit. tin. group minerals.
type 3 Calcite and dolomite . Salt domes: under conditions of high pressure. The most common evaporite deposits are salts (most commonly sylvite and halite).type 4 As evaporite beds of types 1 and 2 consist of highly soluble minerals. salt deforms plastically and behaves like a magma deforming and piercing through the overlying sediments. they must be covered over quickly by an impervious layer. they are commonly re-dissolved by the influx of new salt-water.type 2 Gypsum (below 42° C) or anhydrite (above 42° C) . Most evaporites are derived from bodies of sea-water. Since sea-water only contains 31 parts per thousand of dissolved salts. The mineralogy of phosphate deposits is very complex. An ideal evaporite sequence (in decreasing order of solubility) is as follows: • • • • Potassium and magnesium salts (kainite. For thick. gypsum. particularly in regions of low rainfall and high temperature. but under special conditions. and nitrates. They usually consist of fine-grained mixtures of various calcium phosphates with the most common . The original character of most evaporite deposits has been destroyed by replacement through circulating fluids. inland lakes may also give rise to evaporite deposits. The island of Nauru in the Pacific is one of the world's largest deposits of phosphorite and has been mined since at least the 1950s. Fullers Earth: an aluminium-poor montmorillonite clay which is highly absorbent (very useful for absorbing contaminant oil). carnallite. They are of economic importance as they form oil traps and can sometimes contain economic deposits of sulfur and boron. Top Evaporite deposits An evaporite is a sediment that forms through the evaporation of saline water. a continuous evaporationreplenishment system must operate. even evaporation of large areas of sea-water will only result in the deposition of a thin evaporite layer. economically viable evaporite layers to be deposited. Top Phosphatic deposits Phosphorite is a commonly used term for lithified phosphate rock. sylvite) type 1 Rock salt (halite) .• • China Clay: deposits of kaolin produced by hydrothermal decomposition or deep weathering of feldspar minerals in granites. To be preserved.
coprolites) that are occasionally thick enough to form economic deposits. The starting material is usually peat or some other form of partially decayed organic material (commonly leaves and branches of trees). Guano deposits need a dry climate for their preservation.e. scales and excreta (i. These deposits are rare and usually arise from either the leaching of the phosphatic limestone (dissolving away the calcium carbonate and leaving behind the detrital phosphate) or the extraction of phosphate at higher levels followed by secondary concentration from downward-percolating groundwaters. Guano These are ancient and/or fossil deposits of bird or bat excreta. A good example of bone beds is the marsupial-rich bone phosphate deposits of the Wellington Caves near Dubbo. Top Organic deposits Organic deposits include: Coal Coal is a general name given to stratified accumulations of carbonaceous material derived from vegetation. Combined processes of compaction (from overlying sediments) and slight heating converts this organic material to black coal. contain some phosphate. Bone beds These are localised accumulations of fossil deposits of bone.mineral being apatite. teeth. These have mostly been mined in the past. New South Wales. Phosphate deposits are of three main types: • • • Primary marine phosphate deposits All marine sediments. particularly limestones. Collophane is an amorphous calcium phosphate that is also commonly found in phosphate deposits. There are several stages in this process that occur with increasing heat and compaction: • • • • Peat Lignite (also known as brown coal) Sub-bituminous coal Bituminous coal . Guano deposits from bats are found in large cave systems. Guano deposits from birds are most commonly found on oceanic islands. which under particular conditions may rise to a greater concentration than normal (phosphatic limestone). These deposits occur under relatively cool conditions in an oxygen-free environment. but rarely reaching an economically extractable concentration.
the oil-water system breaks-up with the oil floating on the water. Peat contains recognisable vegetable material but very little mineral material. The percentage of carbon in a dry mineral-free coal is called the rank. The main plants which make-up peat are the peat mosses. bedding planes and fractures. cleavage planes. Fireclay Fireclay is a fossil clay-rich soil associated with coal deposits. usually under temperate to cold climatic conditions. Peat Peat is a partially decomposed mass of vegetation that has grown in a shallow lake or marsh. Individual components of coal are known as macerals. exinite and inertinite. along with rushes. During migration. marine basins) though some has also formed in estuarine and deltaic environments. of which there are three main types. salt water. sedges and horsetails. New South Wales.• • Sub-anthracite Anthracite Coal (12 cm x 10 cm) Newcastle District. Natural accumulations of oil are rarely found where they initially formed because the oil is a fluid and migrates easily through any openings in rocks such as pores in sedimentary rocks. and sometimes.e. It is useful as a refractory material. Peat deposits form in areas of high rainfall. vitrinite. Oil/petroleum Natural deposits of oil are most commonly found associated with natural gas (which is itself derived from the heating-up of the oil). Peat deposits may be tens of metres thick and cover a large area. Unless this migration of the oil is . Peat deposits have long been used (particularly in Northern Europe) as a source of fuel. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. Most natural accumulations of oil appear to have formed under marine conditions (i. The origin of natural oil is still disputed but most geologists believe that it is derived from organic material by decay. This sequence shows a progressive increase in carbon content with corresponding decrease in volatile content. solid hydrocarbons. joint planes.
For oil to be exploitable. The pressure of this gas cap on the overlying strata and the upward pressure of any underlying water below the oil layer are used to drive the oil towards the surface without the need for pumping. they are now uneconomic because of the low price of petroleum and the high cost of processing. Oil usually contains many different hydrocarbons that have differing boiling temperatures. Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. forms a gas-cap on top of the oil accumulation. Most oil shale deposits are associated with coal. heating). leaving behind the solid hydrocarbons such as waxes and asphalts. The oil-bearing strata itself has to be pervious or porous so that the oil can flow freely through it. being lighter than the oil. structural traps (such as folds or faults) and stratigraphic/lithological traps (such as salt domes. Those that have the lowest boiling temperature become accumulations of natural gas which. There are two main types of such traps. overlying impermeable sedimentary layers). Top Residual deposits . • • • Kerogen: a solid organic material that yields petroleum-type hydrocarbons on heating and distillation. it must be trapped by an impermeable geological barrier. Oil shale: this is a fine-grained black or dark grey clay-rich sedimentary rock that yields liquid hydrocarbons upon distillation (i. Petroleum crude in jar (8 cm x 3. Tar pits: small areas where soft asphaltic tar wells up to the surface and fills a hollow.prevented it will flow to the surface with the liquid parts evaporating. Though oil shales were exploited in the early parts of the twentieth century.5 cm).e.
Some of these laterites also contain elevated levels of the platinum-group elements which are an important by-product of the mining. In New Caledonia. usually at the base of the laterite zone. Copyright © Australian Museum. intense leaching of the rock occurs. where the laterite is developed on ultrabasic rocks. The remaining material is usually just iron and aluminium oxides which are concentrated. the solution containing the leached ions is drawn towards the surface by capillary action where it evaporates leaving behind salts that are washed away in the next wet season. Arnhem Land. these deposits are extensively mined and the main nickel-bearing phases are amorphous nickel silicates. Then. the whole zone down to the base of the water table is leached of relatively mobile ions such as sodium. calcium and magnesium. during the dry season. Residual deposits are formed in tropical regions. Other areas which contain extensive laterite nickel mineralisation are the Norseman-Wiluna greenstone belt of Western Australia and Central Africa. silica is also dissolved and removed from the system. Northern Territory. In some tropical regions. 2004 . it forms important deposits of nickel. Eventually. Many fossil laterites are known and these provide evidence of former tropical environments. Basic and ultrabasic rocks tend to form laterites while granitic rocks lead to the development of bauxite.Bauxite (9 cm x 7 cm). Photo: S Humphreys © Australian Museum. potassium. During the wet season. With leaching under the right pH conditions. The problem with these deposits is that the nickel is often very difficult to extract from the laterite.
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