The Gold-pyrite Association in Witwatersrand Reefs: Evidence for Electrochemical Precipitation of Gold

Exploration & Mining Geology, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1994
P.M. MEYER, Department of Geology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa. P. MOLLER, GeoForschungs Zentrum Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany. D. de BRUIN, Geological Survey of South Africa, Republic of South Africa. W. J. PRZYBYLOWICZ, Van de Graaff Group, National Accelerator Centre, Republic of South Africa. V.M. PROZESKY Van de Graaff Group, National Accelerator Centre, Republic of South Africa
Abstract The common style of gold mineralization in the Basal Reef and other auriferous conglomerates of the Witwatersrand Supergroup comprises clusters of gold grains occurring interstiti-ally to quartz and pyrite pebbles as well as gold accumulations attached to the surface of and infilling hairline cracks and fractures in round, compact, detrital pyrite. The latter textural association is generally interpreted as a result of remobilization of originally detrital gold during regional metamor-phism and related hydrothermal fluid circulation. There is general agreement that, although gold solubility was low, ore modification occurred during the metahydrothermal event, but uncertainty exists about the magnitude and scale of gold remobilization.
Micro-textural and chemical investigation of compact round pyrite and associated gold accumulation has established that gold is preferentially deposited on chemically heterogeneous pyrite surfaces. Combinations of alternating high- and low-As zones in pyrite result in mixed np-type conductivity accompanied by electron exchange and the reduction-driven deposition of gold at the cathode. This model does not explain gold accumulations which are not immediately linked to chemical heterogeneities and it is inferred that an additional control on the deposition of gold was exerted by physical defects which lead to zones of increased charge density and/or areas of focussed conductivity. The inferred precipitation mechanisms suggest that submicrocopic physical and chemical controls are the important factors that determined the sites of gold nucleation and that precipitation mechanisms based on physiochemical changes of the hydrothermal system were not involved. The Basal Reef contains on average close to 5% of round, detrital, chemically zoned pyrite which provides a large number of electrochemically active pyrite surfaces. The extremely effective electrochemical precipitation mechanism together with the low solubility of gold in Witwatersrand fluids is the main reason for the spatially restricted remobilization of gold in the conglomerate reefs.
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