A Review of the Geological Characteristics of 'Gold-Only' Deposits in the Superior Province of the Canadian Shield

Special Volume, Vol. SV 24, No. 1982, 1982
Of the 135 current or past-producing 'gold-only' mines in the Superior Province of the Canadian Shield which have produced more than 100,000 tons of ore, the 33 mines which have produced one million ounces or more of gold have accounted for over 84o/o of the total production of 137 million ounces. The published literature on these 33 deposits was reviewed in order to determine the geological setting of the mineralization on a regional (mining camp) and local (mine) scale. The dominant rock types underlying the mining camps are mafic, variolitic, tholeiitic volcanic rocks with a significant ultramafic (komatiitic) component, and clastic and/ or exhalative sedimentary rocks. Felsic volcanic rocks are generally subordinate. Most mining camps are located at or near the top of the mafic-ultramafic sequence, and generally there is a major
sedimentary-volcanic contact present which may be 1) a stratigraphic superposition of volcanic and sedimentary units, 2) a rapid, along-strike gradation from dominantly volcanic to dominantly sedimentary units due to facies change, or to the formation of structurally controlled sedimentary basins during volcanism, or 3) frequently (at 40o/o of the camps) a juxtaposition of sedimentary and volcanic sequences across a major fault zone or 'break', which in many instances may represent a reactivated, syn-volcanic basin-margin fault.
In contrast to the regional setting, on a local or mine scale over 90o/o of the 33 mines contain felsic intrusions and/ or extrusions within mine workings. The felsic rocks may be quartzbearing (commonly quartz-feldspar porphyries) or dominantly quartz-free (commonly feldspar porphyry syenites or monzonites), and appear to have been emplaced in two different depth-zone environments: an epizonal intrusive environment, and a volcanic vent environment. Although the distinction between epizonal intrusive and volcanic intrusive-extrusive rocks is uncertain in many deposits, the two are tentatively separated on the basis of the grain size of the rock matrix (medium to coarse grained vs aphanitic to fine grained), homogeneity (multi-phased and/ or compositionally zoned vs compositionally homogeneous), and the shape and relationship to stratigraphy of the igneous body (circular or oval in cross section, and cutting the stratigraphy at a low angle vs lenticular and either stratiform or cutting the stratigraphy at a high angle). In addition, felsic intrusions of the volcanic environment commonly grade into tuffs or breccias of extrusive origin, whereas epizonal intrusions do not. Stratiform ore zones of possible exhalative sedimentary origin appear to be confined to deposits in which volcanic felsic rocks are present, and are absent from deposits in which only epizonal felsic intrusions are present. Pervasive carbonate- rich alteration, commonly in roughly stratabound zones of regional extent, and carbonate-rich chemical sedimentary rocks are present in over three-quarters of the deposits containing quartz-bearing felsic volcanic rocks, but are much less common in deposits with quartz-free felsic volcanic rocks. The Gold Deposits host sequences of epizonal felsic intrusions which are quartzfree are more commonly sedimentary than those of quartzbearing epizonal felsic intrusions. Quartz, carbonate minerals, arsenopyrite, scheelite, tourmalineand Cr-muscovite ('juchsite') are the most common mineralogical associates of gold. Arsenopyrite is essentially restricted to the volcanic environment, occurring in about twothirds of the deposits with quartz-bearing felsic volcanic rocks and less than half of the deposits with quartz-free volcanic rocks. Tourmaline, on the other hand, is almost ubiquitous in deposits associated with epizonal intrusions and also occurs in about two-thirds of the deposits associated with quartz-bearing felsic volcanic rocks, but in only one of the eight deposits associated with quartz-free felsic volcanic rocks. Scheelite is essentially restricted to ores of quartz-rich felsic association. Exploration for new gold mining camps should be concentrated in the upper parts of mafic-ultramafic volcanic sequences, and especially at the contact zones of these sequences with clastic and/ or exhalative sedimentary rock sequences. In this general environment, the presence of interfingering or juxtaposed volcanic and sedimentary rock units, large zones of carbonate alteration of the volcanic rocks and/ or carbonateor sulphide-rich chemical sedimentary rocks, and small felsic intrusive or extrusive bodies, are favourable indicators for the occurrence of deposits with stratiform, possibly chemical sedimentary gold ore zones. Epizonal intrusives of stock to small batholith size and their contact zones are favourable for deposits containing only epigenetic vein and replacement-type ore zones. Arsenopyrite, scheelite, Cr-muscovite ('juchsite') and tourmaline are favourable indicator minerals for gold mineralization in all environments.
Keywords: gold, gold mining, geological characteristics, volcanic rocks, mafic-ultramafic sequence
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