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What have we learnt about orogenic lode gold deposits over the past 20 years?

Robert Moritz

Section des Sciences de la Terre, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Introduction including fieldwork, laboratory studies, experimental

research and computer modelling, has set important
Gold deposits discussed in this paper have been called constraints on the genetic models that are offered
mesothermal gold, metamorphic gold, gold-only, lode nowadays. However, how far have we progressed in
gold, shear-zone hosted, structurally-controlled our knowledge since the early 1980s?
deposits, and also include the variety of greenstone-
hosted and turbidite-hosted deposits. Recently, the The following review shows that we have gained a fairly
term orogenic gold deposits has been proposed good knowledge about the descriptive aspects of
(Groves et al., 1998), since the term mesothermal orogenic gold deposits. It is recognised that they
appears to be misused with respect to the original constitute an independent class of deposits with
definition of Lindgren (1933). Why do we have this recurring characteristics throughout the geologic record
proliferation of nomenclature? It certainly reflects some and in different geologic environments. Geochronology
confusion within the scientific community. Most has provided important constraints for fitting confidently
certainly the confusion of the terminology does not the deposits into a regional tectonic evolution. On the
stem from a lack of studies. Indeed, since around 1980, other hand, despite intense research effort in the past
orogenic gold deposits have been studied in great two decades, sources of fluids and solutes are still
detail. This research effort is reflected in a large intensely debated. This is reflected by the
number of scientific papers and reviews (e.g. Foster, disagreement about genetic models.
1991; Macdonald, 1986; Keays et al., 1989; Ramsay et
al., 1998). The reason about the confusion probably Regional geologic features
resides in the inherent nature of these gold deposits
hosted by metamorphosed and intensely altered rocks, Orogenic gold deposits are present in metamorphic
that are generally highly deformed and display a terranes of various ages, displaying variable degrees of
complex geologic evolution. deformation. The host geological environments include
volcano-plutonic and clastic sedimentary terranes. The
The orthomagmatic model has been the most popular host rocks have been characteristically
for many decades for the formation of the gold deposits metamorphosed up to greenschist facies conditions,
under review (e.g. Emmons, 1937). Syngenetic and locally to amphibolite or granulite facies conditions.
deposition of gold in submarine chemical sediments The gold deposits typically occur within or in the vicinity
was invoked in the 1970s and 1980s (e.g. Fripp, 1976; of regional, crustal-scale deformation zones with a
Hutchinson and Burlington, 1984), possibly followed by brittle to ductile type of deformation. Some of them
multistage remobilization of gold. Linkage to likely are the present-day expression of ancient major
metamorphic processes as the driving mechanism for tectonic boundaries. The geologic structures generally
generating vein-type, shear-zone hosted gold deposits indicate compressional to transpressional tectonic
was envisaged by Fyfe and Henley (1973) with gold- settings. The gold deposits can be hosted by any rock
bearing quartz veins formed along shear zones that type.
focused metamorphic fluids expelled from deeper
structural levels in the crust. In his comprehensive A wide diversity of morphologies
review, Boyle (1979) suggested a model on a more
local scale, with lateral secretion processes resulting in Typically, there is a strong structural control of the gold
gold enrichment in dilatant structures during regional deposits and orebodies at all scales. The morphology
metamorphism. can be highly variable, including (1) brittle faults to
ductile shear zones, (2) extensional fractures,
The dramatic price increase of gold in the late 1970s, stockworks and breccias, and (3) fold hinges (Hodgson,
culminating at a high of U.S.$ 620/oz in January 1980, 1989; Robert, 1996). The orebodies can consist
was certainly a major trigger for the world-wide dominantly of altered host rock with disseminated
launched studies on vein-type and shear zone hosted mineralization or of fissure-filled mineralization, i.e.
gold deposits. The considerable development of veins, sensu stricto. The deposits can have a
different analytical techniques during the past 20 years significant vertical extent, exceeding 1 km in many
has also allowed us to accumulate a vast data set and deposits, reaching even 3.2 km in the Kolar gold field in
to improve our knowledge of these gold deposits. The India.
combination of independent lines of investigation,
Mineralogy of ore & gangue minerals development. The mineralized structures display syn-
to post-mineralization displacements, such as striated
Veins in the orogenic gold deposits are dominated by slip surfaces with hydrothermal slickenlines, and folding
quartz with subsidiary carbonate and sulfide minerals, and boudinage. This indicates that the gold deposits
and less abundantly, albite, chlorite, white mica are syn-tectonic. Veins and structures in the wallrocks
(fuchsite in ultramafic host rocks), tourmaline, and typically record reverse-oblique movements along the
scheelite. Carbonate minerals consist of calcite, associated shear zones and faults. A combination of
dolomite and ankerite. Gold occurs in the veins and in dynamic stress changes and fluid pressure variations is
adjacent wallrocks. Gold is usually intimately generally invoked to explain the geometry of the vein
associated with sulfide minerals, including pyrite, systems (Sibson et al., 1988; Sibson and Scott, 1998).
pyrrhotite chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite, and
arsenopyrite. In volcano-plutonic settings, pyrite and In metamorphic greenschist grade settings,
pyrrhotite are the most common sulfide minerals in hydrothermal alteration assemblages are typically
greenschist and amphibolite grade host rocks, superimposed on the regional metamorphic mineralogy
respectively, while arsenopyrite is the predominant of the host rocks. Therefore, the gold deposits are
sulfide mineral in ores hosted by sedimentary rocks. interpreted as post-peak metamorphic. However, the
Tellurides can be significant ore minerals in some relationship is more ambiguous in higher metamorphic
deposits. Gold to silver ratios typically range between grade environments where hydrothermal alteration is
10:1 and 5:1, less commonly 1:1. Although the vein reported as syn-metamorphic (Neumayr et al., 1993),
systems can be continuous for over 1 to 2 km vertical and in other cases as overprinted by deformation and
extent, there is generally little change in ore grade, and regional metamorphism (Penczak and Mason, 1997).
ore and gangue mineralogy with depth.
Hydrothermal alteration
Radiometric dating has certainly provided an absolute
Hydrothermal wallrock alteration in orogenic gold time frame for integrating orogenic gold deposits into
deposits is developed in a zoned pattern with a the regional geologic evolution of their host
40 39
progression from proximal to distal assemblages. The environments. Indeed, Ar/ Ar, Sm-Nd, and
alteration intensity decreases with distance with respect conventional or SHRIMP U-Pb dating have allowed us
to the orebodies. Scale, intensity and mineralogy of the to refine the absolute time relationships among
alteration is a function of wallrock composition and tectonic, metamorphic, magmatic, and ore formation
crustal level (e.g. McCuaig and Kerrich, 1998). events. The emplacement of orogenic gold deposits
Alteration is most intensely developed in intermediate can occur immediately following or just a few million
to ultramafic igneous wallrocks. In clastic sedimentary years after magmatic activity, regional metamorphism
rocks, alteration is restricted to narrow zones around and deformation, to many tens of millions years after
the orebodies. The main alteration products of the the intial orogenic events of the host rocks (Groves et
wallrocks include (1) carbonate minerals (calcite, al., 1998). Absolute radiometric dating has yielded
dolomite, ankerite, in some cases siderite and diachronous ages for orogenic gold deposits, revealing
magnesite), (2) sulfide minerals (generally pyrite, that formation of these deposits is episodic and can
pyrrhotite or arsenopyrite), (3) alkali-rich silicate occur during a prolonged time-span during the late
minerals (sericite, fuchsite, albite, and less commonly, orogenic evolution of a given tectonic province, in
K-feldspar, biotite, paragonite), (4) chlorite and (5) general as the host terrains are uplifted and
quartz. Carbonatization, sulfidation and alkali- progressively cooling.
metasomatism of the wallrocks reflect the addition of
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variable amounts of CO2, S, K, Na, H2O, and LILE For instance, Ar/ Ar and SHRIMP U-Pb
during mineralization. Amphibole, diopside, plagioclase geochronology in Australian turbidite-hosted gold
and garnet are recognized at deeper crustal levels deposits indicate episodic hydrothermal gold
under amphibolite and granulite metamorphic grades, mineralization during a prolonged time-span in the mid-
where carbonate minerals become less abundant. Paleozoic at 420-455 Ma synchronous with regional
metamorphism and thrusting, and at 360-380 Ma
Geometrical relationships & relative timing overlapping with magmatic activity dated at 360-410
Ma (Arne et al., 1998; Foster et al., 1998). In the
40 39
The structures hosting the gold deposits (shear zones, northwestern Alps, Ar/ Ar dating on hydrothermal
faults, extensional veins, breccia) are typically micas from gold lodes yields progressively younger
discordant with respect to the stratigraphic layering of ages from 31.6 Ma in the southwest to 10.6 Ma in the
the host rocks, but in some cases they can be parallel northeast. Thus, the hydrothermal systems depositing
to bedding planes and fold hinges or intrusive contacts. gold were recurrent for about 20 m.y. across the Alpine
This reflects the epigenetic nature of the gold deposits belt (Pettke et al., 2000). While Periadriatic plutonism
and the influence of strength anisotropy on their was coeval with the older deposits, there is no known
magmatic activity contemporaneous with the younger Hodgson and Hamilton, 1989; Kerrich and Wyman,
deposits. Therefore Pettke et al. (2000) concluded that 1990). For instance, the Archean Superior Province of
the gold deposits are related to metamorphic Canada is characterized by the diachronous accretion
devolatilization during uplift of the Alpine belt. By from north to south of diverse plutonic, volcano-
contrast, in other areas, as for example the Massif plutonic, and metasedimentary subprovinces between
Central, France (Bouchot et al., 1997) or the Pataz 2710 and 2670 Ma (Card, 1990). Lode gold deposits
province, Peru (Haeberlin et al., 1999), the mineralizing are linked in time and space to the diachronous
event apparently lasted only a short lapse of time, accretion events, and typically occur after and during
within just a few million years. the later magmatic, metamorphic and deformation
stages of each accretion event (Poulsen et al., 1992).
Although radiogenic isotopes allow us to obtain
absolute and precise ages, their interpretation can be Goldfarb et al. (2000) recognize a broad correlation of
subject to debate. For instance, U-Pb, Sm-Nd and formation of orogenic gold deposits with thermal events
40 39
Ar/ Ar ages of hydrothermal rutile, scheelite and associated to the growth of new continental crust
muscovite, respectively, from gold deposits at Val d’Or, during the evolution of our planet. Formation of
southern Abitibi greenstone belt, Canada, yield gold orogenic gold deposits on a global-wide scale was
deposition ages about 2600 Ma according to Wong et episodic at about 3100 Ma, 2700-2500 Ma, 2100-1700
al. (1991), Hanes et al. (1992), and Anglin et al. (1996). Ma, and the Phanerozoic. Orogenic gold deposits are
Such ages are younger by 70 to 100 m.y. than any found in both accretionary orogens (e.g. western North
plutonic rocks and metamorphic events of the area. By and South America) and collisional orogens (e.g.
contrast, Kerrich and Cassidy (1994) interpret the “late” Variscan, Appalachian and Alpine orogens), also called
2600 Ma ages as resetting of isotopic systems below peripheral and internal orogens, respectively (Groves et
their conventional blocking temperatures due to later al., 1998).
fluid migration associated with reactivation of the
structures hosting the gold deposits. Kerrich and Isotopic characteristics: attempts to
Cassidy (1994) argue that SHRIMP U-Pb ages constrain the sources of fluids & solutes
between 2680 and 2690 Ma of hydrothermal zircons
from the same gold deposits are more consistent with Isotopic studies of a variety of minerals and of fluid
the known tectonic, structural and metamorphic inclusions have been carried out to determine the
relationships of the gold deposits and the local geologic source of solutes and fluids, as well as the mechanisms
environment. of ore deposition. Since gold is monoisotopic ( Au),
information about the source rocks of gold are inferred
Such a debate shows that care must be taken in the from Sr, Pb and stable isotope systematics. There is
choice of the minerals to be dated, and that the certainly no global consensus about the interpretation
radiometric ages must be critically assessed with of the enormous data set acquired so far. The
respect to the regional geologic evolution of the ambiguities attached to the interpretations are reflected
environment hosting the gold deposits. Moreover, in the wide range of genetic models proposed for the
attention must be paid to possible thermal and orogenic gold deposits.
secondary fluid migration overprints on the gold
deposits. Recent developments in Re-Os Hydrogen and oxygen isotopes have been popular in
geochronology may provide an alternative for dating the attempt at constraining the source of the fluids
directly ore minerals in orogenic gold deposits. For involved in the formation of orogenic gold deposits.
instance, Re-Os dating of vein pyrite at the Sigma Mine  O values of the fluids generally range between +6
from the southern southern Abitibi greenstone belt and +11‰ (SMOW), and D fluid values between –30
yields a mean age of 2679 Ma (Stein et al., 1999), in and –80‰ (SMOW). Both metamorphic (e.g. McCuaig
good agreement with the 2680-2690 Ma SHRIMP ages and Kerrich, 1998) and magmatic fluids (So and Yun,
of the zircons (Kerrich and Cassidy; 1994). 1997; de Ronde et al., 2000) reasonably fit the
observed values.  O and D fluid values from a
Geodynamic setting number of deposits fall outside the abovementionned
“typical” ranges. In Archean lode-gold deposits from
Phanerozoic orogenic gold deposits are spatially Western Australia such values are interpreted as
associated with convergent plate boundaries (Nesbitt, incursion of surface-derived waters (Hagemann et al.,
1991; Kerrich and Cassidy, 1994; Goldfarb et al., 1994). Low D values of –160 to -80‰ in Phanerozoic
1998). The tectonic setting of the Precambrian deposits North American Cordilleran and Korean deposits are
remained more ambiguous until the late 1980s. Based interpreted as reflecting the deep circulation of meteoric
on abundant geological similarities between the gold waters during formation of the orogenic gold deposits
deposits from Phanerozoic orogenic belts and Archean (Nesbitt et al., 1986; Shelton et al. 1988). By contrast,
greenstone belts, a plate convergent setting is also other authors attribute such low D values to fluid
suggested for Archean deposits (Barley et al., 1989; reaction with organic matter and reduced gas species
(Peters et al.; 1990; Goldfarb et al., 1997). Goldfarb et ore types. This feature is cited as evidence for a deep
al. (1991) mention that such low D values obtained by origin of the ore-forming fluids, like granulitization of the
analysis of bulk extraction of fluid inclusions are due to lower crust (Fyon et al., 1989) or progressive fluid
late generations of secondary inclusions trapping release under amphibolite facies conditions (Phillips
meteoric water unrelated to gold deposition. and Powell, 1993). However, other authors contend
that igneous intrusions can also produce CO2-rich fluids
Carbon and sufur isotope data are variable for orogenic (McCoy et al., 1997; Sillitoe and Thompson, 1998).
gold deposits of all ages and from different districts
(e.g. Nesbitt, 1991; McCuaig and Kerrich 1998). The The fluid groups 2 and 3 described above are typically
large range in isotopic data may reflect interactions interpreted as resulting from unmixing of fluid 1. Phase
between different rock types and the ore forming fluids separation is often cited as the trigger of gold
along their channelways from their source to the gold deposition. However unmixing is not systematically
deposition site, and variable chemical conditions before associated with gold deposition (e.g. Diamond, 1990),
and during ore formation. and other processes such as fluid-rock interaction or
fluid cooling have been invoked. Although less popular,
Similarly, Pb and Sr isotope systematics of different fluid mixing has been favoured in other cases between
minerals from orogenic gold deposits have not allowed CO2-rich fluids and brines to explain gold deposition
us to define a unique rock reservoir as the source of (e.g. Anderson et al., 1992).
gold. In contrast, they indicate heterogeneous sources,
and yield a general picture of a large-scale reservoir Reported salinities of fluids associated to gold
with a variety of rocks providing the components deposition are typically below 10 wt% NaCl equiv.
contained in the orogenic gold deposits (Nesbitt, 1991; (Groves et al., 1998; McCuaig and Kerrich, 1998). The
McCuaig and Kerrich, 1998). Moreover, there is no interpretation of more saline fluids with up to 35 wt%
certainty that gold originates from the same source NaCl equiv. (group 4 above), with daughter minerals in
rocks as Pb and Sr, since the radiogenic isotopic some cases (e.g. halite), is more controversial. In some
compositions may only reflect interaction with different cases, such saline inclusions are interpreted as late
rocks during fluid migration, thus altering the original brines unrelated to the gold deposits. In other deposits
isotopic signature of the fluid (e.g. Moritz et al., 1990; they have also been considered as resulting from
Pettke et al., 2000). He isotopes can be used to phase separation of H2O-CO2 fluids. High fluid salinities
discriminate among major fluid reservoirs such as are not only diagnostic of magmatic and basinal fluids,
mantle, meteoric and crust (Pettke et al., 2000). but can also be produced during retrograde
metamorphism (Bennett and Barker, 1992).
Fluid inclusion characteristics
In Alpine and Variscan deposits, halogen systematics
Fluid inclusion microthermometry has been abundantly based on bulk fluid extraction has been interpreted by
used to define fluid compositions, ore forming Yardley et al. (1993) and Boiron et al. (1996) as
processes and pressure-temperature conditions. reflecting deep circulation of meteoric water during
Problems associated to fluid inclusion studies in gold ore formation. However, in the case of the Alpine
syntectonic, orogenic gold deposits are their possible deposits the meteoric fluid interpretation based on
reequilibration due to overprinting deformation and halogen systematics (Yardley et al., 1993) contrasts
uplift/exhumation following formation of the deposits. with He-Ar isotope systematics ruling out meteoric
Uncertainties in reconstructing the pressure- water during ore formation (Pettke et al., 2000).
temperature conditions (isochore calculations) are also Insufficient database and knowledge of halogen
attached to small, often undetectable dissolved gas systematics may explain such diverging interpretations
species. Despite these problems, fluid inclusion studies (McCuaig and Kerrich, 1998). In addition, analyses of
have revealed the presence of four main types of fluids bulk extracted fluid inclusions should be interpreted
in the orogenic gold deposits: (1) two- to three-phase with caution because of possible mixing of various fluid
H2O-CO2 fluids with variable quantities of CH4, N2 and inclusion populations. Some of these fluids maybe
dissolved salts; (2) CO2-rich inclusions with variable totally unrelated to gold deposition. In the future, single
contents of CH4, N2 and H2S and low to undetectable fluid inclusion analyses (e.g. LA-ICP-MS) may give us
H2O contents; (3) low to medium saline two-phase H2O more confidence about the nature of the fluids
fluids with or without CO2; and (4) very saline H2O genetically related to orogenic gold deposits.
inclusions with a solid salt phase in some cases.
The combination of the fluid inclusion and other data
The presence of CO2 in the fluids is entirely consistent suggest a pressure-temperature range of ore formation
with the carbonatization of the host rocks of orogenic of 1-3 kb and 250-350°C. Some shallow deposits may
gold deposits. This CO2-rich nature distinguishes the have formed as low as 0.5 kb and 150°C, and deeper
fluids associated to the orogenic gold deposits with deposits under higher pressures up to 5 kb and higher
respect to fluids encountered in other major classes of temperatures of 700°C (Hagemann and Brown, 1996).
Modelling and experimental studies
Conclusion: no consensus about genetic
In recent years, various types of modelling have been models
applied to orogenic gold deposits. The models are
developed and applied as a working tool, they provide Because of the difficulties in defining a unique source
information about the complexity of the system, and of gold and the ore-forming fluids, a number of genetic
guidance on the type of future useful measurements or models have been proposed. The main models are: (1)
observations. For instance, the improvement of granulitization of the lower crust due to CO2-enriched
internally consistent thermodynamic databases for fluids from the mantle accompanied by felsic
mineral and volatile phases has allowed us to refine the magmatism (Fyon et al., 1989; Hodgson and Hamilton,
modelling of physico-chemical conditions of the ore- 1989); (2) magmatic fluids exsolved from tonalite -
forming fluids. Based on phase equilibria, and fluid trondjemite - granodioritic intrusions (Burrows and
inclusion, isotope and thermodynamic data, Mikucki Spooner, 1987); (3) fluids produced by metamorphic
and Ridley (1993), and Mikucki (1998) have calculated processes (e.g. Kontak et al., 1990; Phillips and Powell,
that the orogenic gold deposits were in general formed 1993; Kerrich and Cassidy, 1994); and (4) deep
from moderately reduced fluids with a nearly neutral to circulation of meteoric water (Nesbitt et al., 1986;
weakly alkaline pH at all crustal levels. The fluids Boiron et al., 1996). Lamprophyres have also been
maintained approximate thermal equilibrium with the suggested as a gold and fluid source, but their spatial
rocks through which they circulated, but their chemical association with orogenic gold deposits is downplayed
composition was progressively modified through fluid- to a merely structural relationship (Rock et al., 1989).
wallrock interaction and/or mineral precipitation during
their ascent. Such thermodynamic calculations lend There has been a tendency in the late 1980s and early
support to models advocating a crustal continuum of 1990s to classify gold deposits located within
gold deposition, with a single fluid moving from deep to deformation zones under a single category named
shallow crustal levels (Groves, 1993). mesothermal, with the understanding that they were
formed by the same process regardless of their age
Modelling of metamorphic processes, fluid production and geographic location (Kerrich and Wyman, 1990;
and fluid circulation may explain conflicting temporal Nesbitt, 1991). It is clear that with such a unifying
relationships between gold-bearing quartz veins and classification, the origin of some deposits has remained
peak-metamorphism (Stüwe et al., 1993; Stüwe, 1998). contentious, in particular in higher grade metamorphic
In Barrovian-type metamorphic terrains, lower crustal settings. Some authors have ascribed a deep origin to
levels experience prograde metamorphism later than such deposits, suggesting a syn-metamorphic origin
shallow crustal levels, with a time difference of up to 50 (e.g. Neumayr et al., 1993), therefore supporting a
m.y. Such calculations show that veining in upper crustal continuum model for the orogenic gold deposits
crustal levels can be coeval with metamorphism at (Groves, 1993; Groves et al., 1998). In contrast, other
deeper crustal levels, therefore explaining the post- authors favour a shallow origin for such deposits,
peak metamorphic setting of orogenic gold deposits, subsequently overprinted by deformation and regional
and the relatively long-time gap in certain cases metamorphism at deeper structural levels (e.g.
between peak-metamorphism of the immediate host Morasse et al., 1995; Penzcak and Mason, 1997).
rocks and the gold-bearing quartz veins. Similar Orogenic gold deposits hosted by upper amphibolite to
calculations for terrains where magmatic underplating granulite metamorphic grade rocks have only been
or magmatic intrusions are the cause of metamorphism recognised in Archean terrains, and seem to be absent
indicate that quartz veining can be both pre- and post- in Phanerozoic orogenic belts (Groves et al., 1998).
Presently, the genetic models ascribed to a number of
There is a consensus that the main complex gold deposits hosted by deformed host rocks are re-
responsible for gold transport in orogenic gold deposits examined, in particular those with styles of alteration,
- 0
is Au(HS)2 (Seward, 1984; Mikucki, 1998). Au(HS) ore assemblages and metal associations departing
may become predominant under low pH conditions from the features typical of orogenic gold deposits cited
(Benning and Seward, 1996). Gold-chloride complexes above. Such deposits are reinterpreted using intrusion-
are generally considered to be negligible under the related, porphyry-like Au-Cu, Au-rich volcanogenic
physico-chemical conditions prevailing in orogenic gold massive-sulfide or low sulfidation epithermal models
deposits. However, based on thermodynamic (Robert and Poulsen, 1997; Robert, 2000). This
calculations, Mikucki (1998) suggests that AuCl2 will approach maybe an alternative to the crustal continuum
eventually supersede Au(HS)2 as the dominant gold- model proposed by Groves (1993). In particular, the
complex at temperatures above 550°C, even in low- intrusion-related model has recently gained new
salinity fluids. Experimental data are certainly attention. Sillitoe and Thompson (1998) and Thompson
necessary to understand the stability of gold-complexes et al. (1999) identify various types of metal associations
under amphibolite and granulite facies conditions. with gold in intrusion-related systems (e.g.: Au-W-Sn,
Au-Fe-Cu, Au-As-Bi-Sb, etc.). Gold deposits can be Burrows, D.R., Spooner , E.T.C. (1987) - Generation of a magmatic
hosted by the genetically associated intrusion or be H2O-CO2 fluid enriched in Au, Mo, and W within an Archean sodic
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40 39
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