Ionic gold in calcrete revealed by LA-ICP-MS, SXRF and XANES

M.J. Lintern, R.M. Hough, C.G. Ryan, M. Verrall, John Watling

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    Highly anomalous Au concentrations in calcrete were discovered in 1987 at the Bounty Gold Deposit, Western Australia. A strong correlation was noted between the Ca, Mg, Sr and Au in soil profiles which have not only attracted the interest of mineral explorers but also chemists, soil scientists, metallurgists and climatologists. Gold has been considered an inert element and so its strong association with the alkaline earth group of relatively mobile elements is both remarkable and intriguing. Despite widespread interest, there have been few published papers on the Au–calcrete phenomenon. Here, we present work conducted on calcareous soil samples from above the Bounty mineralisation in Western Australia, prior to mining. Using SXRF (synchrotron X-ray fluorescence) and XANES (micro-X-ray absorption near-edge structure), we have shown for the first time the distribution of Au in calcrete and that it occurs in both particulate and ionic form. Much of the ionic Au associated with Br is found in a root tubule. The observations are consistent with an evapotranspiration model for the formation of Au in the calcrete; Au has been mobilised then precipitated as vadose water has been removed from the soil by trees and shrubs. While the association between Au and Ca is very strong in bulk sample analyses down the soil profile, other detailed analyses on sub-samples using wet chemical, LA-ICP-MS (laser ablation inductively coupled mass spectrometry) and SXRF techniques show that it is not apparent at the sub-millimetre scale. This suggests that the Au and Ca are behaving similarly but independently and they do not (at the μm scale) co-precipitate with carbonate minerals.These results corroborate other studies that suggest biotic influences can affect the mobilisation and distribution of Au in surficial materials. Water-extractable Au in calcrete has been reported previously and the ionic Au described in this study likely represents that soluble component. The presence of easily solubilised Au in soils has been widely discussed and exploited for mineral exploration.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1666-1683
    JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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