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Ore Textures and Wall Rock Alteration

Economic geologists study textures to learn about the manner in which ores were
deposited which in turn provides a clue to the genesis of certain deposits.
Textures
A. Open Space Filling
1. Precipitation from silicate melts - Critical factors to grain shape are (a) time of
crystallization and (b) the absence of simultaneously crystallizing phases. Oxides
generally crystallize out early and may form subhedral to euhedral crystals. If
they do not react with later silicate phases they will remain so. When oxides and
silicates crystallize simultaneously the result will be a hypidiomorphic texture
such as that typical of most granites. Sulfides due to lower melting points will be
present either as globules (immiscible liquid segregation) or as interstitial grains
between silicate phases.
2. Precipitation from aqueous solutions - Most common type of mineralization.
Results from the nucleation of crystals on the walls of veins which occurs as the
chemistry of the solutions changes. Minerals precipitate on the vein walls in a
series of crustiform bands of differing composition. Repetition of phases is
common. Extremely rapid deposition of sulfides gives rise to colloform textures
such as those seen in the ores from the Upper Mississippi Valley district.

B. Replacement - dissolving of one mineral and the deposition of another in its place.
Very common in all types of deposits and perhaps the dominant mode of ore deposition.

Wall Rock Alteration


Changes that occur in the host rock as a direct consequence of the introduction of
mineralizing solutions. May include any of the following:
1. color
2. texture
3. mineralogy
4 .chemistry

In general. the higher the temperature the more intense the alteration, other factors
including the nature of the host rock, the degree of fracturing, permeability and grain size
are probably at least as important.
Two major types of wall rock alteration:
1. Hypogene - caused by ascending hydrothermal solutions
2. Supergene - caused by descending meteoric water
Types of Wall Rock Alteration
1. Advanced argillic - characterized by the clays dickite, kaolinite and pyrophyllite
(all hydrated aluminum silicates) and quartz. Sericite may be present as well as
alunite and tourmaline. Alteration involves the extreme leaching of cations,
especially the difficult to leach alkalis and calcium, and the concentration of H+.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.
7.
8.

This type of alteration is characteristic of many epithermal precious metal


deposits and a smaller number of mesothermal deposits such as Butte, Montana.
Potassic alteration - characterized by secondary kspar + biotite. Anhydrite may
be present, but its susceptibility to solution generally results in its dissolution in
near surface environments. Because it is characterized by common silicates,
potassic alteration is often difficult to detect. Pyrite and minor chalcopyrite and
molybdenite are the only ore minerals associated with this alteration.
Sericitization (Phyllic) - characterized by the assemblage quartz + sericite +
pyrite. Generally the most common form of alteration. Sulfides present, in
addition to pyrite, include chalcopyrite, bomite and a variety of less common
copper sulfides.
Argillic - characterized by kaolinite + montmorillonite. Somewhat similar to
advanced argillic alteration, but with a lesser degree of leaching of cations. Also
unlike advanced argillic alteration which is associated with vein type deposits,
argillic alteration is more closely associated with disseminated deposits, porphyry
coppers in particular. Sulfides are less common in association with this alteration
type.
Propylitic - characterized by the assemblage chlorite + epidote + calcite. Albite
as well as other carbonates may be present. Due to presence of the green minerals
chlorite and epidote this zone is usually easily recognizable by its color.
Associated sulfides include pyrite, copper sulfides, galena, sphalerite and a host of
complex arsenides. Often this zone can be quite large and is useful during mineral
exploration. Unlike the previous types above which are characterized by leaching
of cations this zone seems to represent the addition of cations.
Silicification - characterized by quartz or chert. Can be added by solutions as is
the case in many low temperature deposits or the result of complete leaching of all
cations plus aluminum.
Dolomitization - addition of magnesium to limestone to form dolomite. Common
in Mississippi Valley type deposits.
Other alteration types:
Feldspathization - kspar + albite, forms in the deep zones of some porphyry
copper deposits.
Greisenization - tourmaline + topaz + cassiterite + various tungsten-bearing
minerals. Common form of alteration on association with porphyry tin deposits.
Fenitization - characterized by nepheline, alkali feldspar and Na-bearing
amphiboles. Hematization - characterized by secondary hematite.
Bleaching - not characterized by any specific mineral assemblage, but rather a
color change between altered and unaltered rock. Generally the result of oxidation
of Fe.

Typical Examples of Alteration


The most heavily studied of alteration suites is that associated with porphyry copper
deposits. Figure shows a cross section of a copper deposit in New Guinea. Note that it is
characterized by a core of potassic alteration, flanked by a zone of phyllic alteration

which in turn is flanked by propylitic alteration. Some porphyry copper deposits also
have zones of argillic alteration sandwiched between the propylitic and phyllic zones.

Mesothermal vein type deposit alteration assemblage have also been heavily studied.
Figure shows the changes in alteration types which grade from phyllic to propylitic as
well the actual chemical changes in the rock. In general:

1) CaO and Na2O, and FeO increase dramatically away from the vein.
2) SiO2 initially increases then decreases.
3) H2O and S decrease.
Epithermal vein type deposits also are often characterized by pronounced alteration
assemblages. Figure is a very outdated and simplistic interpretation of typical alteration
consisting of a broad propylitic halo and a cap of silicification