Application of stress mapping in cross-section to understanding ore geometry, predicting ore zones and development of drilling strategies

J.L. Mair, V.J. Ojala, B.P. Salier, David Groves, S.M. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Stress mapping is a numerical modelling technique used to determine the distribution and relative magnitude of stress during deformation in a mineralised terrane. It is based on the general principle that fluid flow in the Earth's crust is primarily related to pressure gradients. It is best applied to epigenetic hydrothermal mineral deposits, where fluid flow and fluid flux are enhanced in dilational sections of structures and in sites of enhanced rock permeability due to high fracture density. These are defined by sites of low minimum principal stress (sigma(3)). Most stress mapping is carried out in two dimensions in plan view using geological maps. This is suitable for terranes with steeply dipping lithostratigraphy and structures in which the distribution of mineral deposits is largely controlled by fault structures portrayed on the maps. However, for terranes with gently dipping sequences and structures, and for situations where deposits are sited in and near the hinges of complex fold structures, stress mapping in cross-section is preferable. The effectiveness of stress mapping is maximised if mineralisation was late in the evolutionary history of the host terrane, and hence the structural geometry of the terrane and contained deposits were essentially that expressed today. The orientation of syn-mineralisation far-field stresses must also be inferred. Two examples of orogenic gold deposits, which meet the above criteria, are used to illustrate the potential of stress mapping in cross-section. Sunrise Dam, located in the Archaean Yilgarn Craton, is a lode-gold deposit sited in a thrust-fold belt. Stress mapping illustrates the heterogeneity of stress distribution in the complex structural geometry of the deposit, and predicts the preferential siting of ore zones around the intersections of more steeply dipping, linking thrusts and banded iron-formation units, and below the controlling more gently dipping basal thrust, the Sunrise Shear. The Howley Anticline in the Pine Creek block hosts several Palaeoproterozoic gold deposits, sited in complex anticlinal structures in greywacke sequences. Stress mapping indicates that gold ores should develop in the hinge zones of symmetrical anticlines, in the hinge zones and more steeply dipping to overturned limbs of asymmetric anticlines, and in and around thrusts in both anticlines and parasitic synclines. The strong correlation between the predictions of the stress mapping, based on the distribution of low sigma(3), and the location of gold ores emphasises the potential of stress mapping in cross-section, not only as an exploration tool for the discovery of additional resources or deposits, but also as a test of geological models. Knowledge of the potential siting of gold ores and their probable orientations also provides a guide to drilling strategies in both mine- and regional-scale exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)896-912
JournalAustralian Journal of Earth Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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