Spatial variation in platinum group element concentrations in ore-bearing komatiite at the long-victor deposit, Kambalda dome, Western Australia: Enlarging the footprint of nickel sulfide orebodies

S.J. Barnes, G.J. Heggie, Marco Fiorentini

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    The detectable footprints of komatiite-hosted nickel sulfide deposits are typically very small, but can potentially be enlarged by identifying subtle geochemical variations related to ore-forming processes in the host rocks. This study examines the spatial variability of whole-rock concentrations of platinum group elements (PGEs) within the host flow to massive nickel sulfide mineralization at the Long-Victor deposit, Kambalda dome (Western Australia), where a series of ore shoots occupy two subparallel channels, over a strike length of approximately 3,000 m. The basal komatiite flow unit at Long-Victor contains a wide range of platinum group element concentrations and PGE/Ti ratios in S-poor rocks outside the ore shoots. About a third of the samples analyzed show evidence for either enrichment or depletion in PGEs, as estimated from mantle-normalized ratios of Pt/Ti, Pd/Ti, and Rh/Ti, relative to background values typical of those found in Neoarchean Munrotype komatiites worldwide. The very strong correlations observed between Pt/Ti, Pd/Ti, and Rh/Ti testify to a primary magmatic origin of this signal. Depletion signatures are largely restricted to samples in the flanking environment within the basal flow, and are found both in spinifex-textured A-zone and cumulate B-zone samples. The strongest depletion signatures are preserved in the uppermost portions of the A-zone and decrease in magnitude with increasing depth from the stratigraphic top of the spinifex horizon downward. This is interpreted as the result of progressive flushing of the flow channel by PGE-undepleted lava subsequent to ore formation. Enriched signatures are largely restricted to cumulate rock types, and are found within both channels and flanks. The halo of anomalous PGE/Ti ratios, both depleted and enriched, extends more than 400 m from the cutoff of 0.4% Ni that defines the limit of disseminated ores, and is much more extensive and marked than anomalies defined by Ni concentrations, Ni/Cr ratios, or Ni/Ti ratios, which extend no more than 20 m beyond the disseminated ores themselves. The PGE enrichment halo is recognizable in rocks having no visible sulfide and having Ni values falling within the silicate background, and is attributed to the accumulation of small proportions of PGE-rich disseminated sulfide liquid formed at high R factors, with subsequent loss of S during hydrothermal alteration. Mapping of PGE/Ti ratios provides an effective and sensitive method for vectoring toward ore during mine-scale and prospect-scale exploration, and is potentially applicable to mafic systems as well as to komatiites. ©2013 Society of Economic Geologists, Inc.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)913-933
    JournalEconomic Geology and the Bulletin of the Society of Economic Geologists
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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