Late-kinematic timing of orogenic gold deposits and significance for computer-based exploration techniques with emphasis on the Yilgarn Block, Western Australia

David Groves, R.J. Goldfarb, Carl Knox-Robinson, J. Ojala, S.J. Gardoll, G.Y. Yun, P. Holyland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

197 Citations (Scopus)


Orogenic gold deposits no a widespread coherent group of epigenetic ore deposits that are sited in accretionary or collisional orogens. They formed over a large crustal-depth range from deep-seated low-salinity H2O-CO2 +/- CH2 +/- N-2 ore fluids and with Au transported as thio-complexes, Regional structures provide the main control on deposit distribution. In many terranes, first-order faults or shear zones appear to have controlled regional fluid flow, with greatest ore-fluid fluxes in, and adjacent to, lower-older faults, shear zones and/or large folds. Highly competent and/or chemically reactive rocks are the most common hosts to the larger deposits. Focusing of supralithostatic ore fluids into dilatant zones appears to occur late during the evolutionary history of the host terranes, normally within D-3 or D-4 in a D-1-D-4 deformation sequence. Reactivation of suitably oriented pre-existing structures during a change in far-field stress orientation is a factor common to many deposits, and repeated reactivation may account for multiple mineralization episodes in some larger deposits. Absolute robust ages of mineralization support their late-kinematic timing, and, in general, suggest that deposits formed diachronously towards the end of the 100 to 200 m.y. long evolutionary history of hosting orogens. For example, in the Yilgarn Block, a region specifically emphasised in this study, orogenic gold deposits formed in the time interval between 40 and 90 m.y., with most about 60 to 70 m.y., after the youngest widespread basic-ultrabasic volcanism and towards the end of felsic magmatism. The late timing of orogenic gold deposits is pivotal to geologically-based exploration methodologies. This is because the present structural geometries of: (i) the deposits, (ii) the hosting goldfields, and (iii) the enclosing terranes are all essentially similar to those during gold mineralization, at least in their relative position to each other. Thus, interpretation of geological maps and cross-sections and three-dimensional models can be used to accurately simulate the physical conditions that existed at the time of ore deposition. It is particularly significant that the deposits are commonly related to repetitive and predictable geometries, such as structural heterogeneities within or adjacent to first-order structures, around rigid granitoid bodies, or in specific "locked-up" told-thrust structures. Importantly, the two giant greenstone-hosted goldfields, Kalgoorlie and Timmins, show a remarkably similar geometry at the regional scale. Computer-based stress mapping and GIS-based prospectivity mapping are two computer-based quantitative methodologies that can utilize and take advantage of the late timing aspect of this deposit type to provide important geological aids in exploration, both in broad regions and more localized goldfields. Both require an accurate and consistent solid geology map, stress mapping requires knowledge of the far-field stresses during mineralization, and the empirical prospectively mapping requires data from a significant number of known deposits in the terrane. The Kalgoorlie Terrane, in the Yilgarn Block, meets these criteria, and illustrates the potential of these methodologies in the exploration for orogenic gold deposits. Low minimum stress anomalies, interpreted to represent dilational zones during gold-related deformation, coincide well with the positions of known goldfields rather than individual gold deposits in the terrane, and there are additional as-yet unexplained anomalies.The prospectivity analysis confirms that predictable and repetitive factors controlling the siting of deposits are: (i) proximity to, and orientation and curvature of, granitoid-greenstone contacts, (ii) proximity to segments of crustal faults which strike in a preferred direction, (iii) proximity to specific lithological contacts which have similar preferred strike, (iv) proximity to anticlinal structures, and (v) the presence of preferred reactive host rocks (e.g., dolerite). The prospectivity map defines a series of anomalous areas, which broadly conform to those of the stress map (> 78% correspondence). The most prospective category on this map covers less than 0.3% of the greenstone belts and yet hosts 16% of the known deposits, which have produced > 80% of known gold. Thus, it discriminates in favour of the larger economically more-attractive deposits in the terrane. The successful application of stress mapping and prospectively mapping to geology-based exploration for orogenic gold deposits indicates that more quantitative analysis of geological map data is a profitable line of research. The computer-based nature of these methodologies is ideal for the production of an ultimate, integrated, deposit target map, which can be compared to other, more conventional, targetting parameters such as geophysical and geochemical anomalies. Such an integrated strategy appears the way toward in the increasingly difficult task of cost-effective global exploration for orogenic gold deposits in poorly exposed terranes. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-38
JournalOre Geology Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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