Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Alkalic-type epithermal gold deposit model; Chapter R in Mineral deposit models for resource assessment

November 10, 2020

This report summarizes the primary characteristics of alkalic-type epithermal gold (Au) deposits and provides an updated descriptive model. These deposits, primarily of Mesozoic to Neogene age, are among the largest epithermal gold deposits in the world. Considered a subset of low-sulfidation epithermal deposits, they are spatially and genetically linked to small stocks or clusters of intrusions containing high alkali-element contents. Deposits occur as disseminations, breccia-fillings, and veins and may be spatially and genetically related to skarns and low-grade porphyry copper (Cu) or molybdenum (Mo) systems. Gold commonly occurs as native gold, precious metal tellurides, and as sub-micron gold in arsenian pyrite. Quartz, carbonate, fluorite, adularia, and vanadian muscovite/roscoelite are the most common gangue minerals. Alkalic-type gold deposits form in a variety of geological settings including continent-arc collision zones and back-arc or post-subduction rifts that are invariably characterized by a transition from convergent to extensional or transpressive tectonics.

The geochemical compositions of alkaline igneous rocks spatially linked with these deposits span the alkaline-subalkaline transition. Their alkali enrichment may be masked by potassic alteration, but the unaltered or least altered rocks (1) have chondrite normalized patterns that are commonly light rare earth element (LREE) enriched, (2) are heavy rare earth element (HREE) depleted, and (3) have high large ion lithophile contents and variable enrichment of high-field strength elements. Radiogenic isotopes suggest a mantle derivation for the alkalic magmas but allow crustal contamination.

Oxygen and hydrogen isotope compositions show that the fluids responsible for deposit formation are dominantly magmatic, although meteoric or other external fluids (seawater, evolved groundwater) also contributed to the ore-forming fluids responsible for these deposits. Carbon and sulfur isotope compositions in vein-hosted carbonates and sulfide gangue minerals, respectively, coincide with magmatic values, although a sedimentary source of carbon and sulfur is evident in several deposits.

Deep-seated structures are critical for the upwelling of hydrous alkalic magmas and for focusing magmatic-hydrothermal fluids to the site of precious metal deposition. The source of gold, silver (Ag), tellurium (Te), vanadium (V), and fluorine (F) was probably the alkalic igneous rocks themselves, and the coexistence of native gold, gold tellurides, and roscoelite in several deposits is primarily a function of similar physicochemical conditions during deposition (for example, overlapping pH and oxygen fugacity (fO2).

Potential environmental impacts related to the mining and processing of alkalic-type epithermal gold deposits include acid mine drainage with high levels of metals, especially zinc (Zn), copper, lead (Pb), and arsenic. However, because alkalic-type gold deposits typically contain carbonates, which contribute calcium and magnesium ions that increase water hardness, aquatic life may be afforded some protection. Impacts vary widely as a function of host rocks, climate, topography, and mining methods.

Geologic mapping to (1) highlight the distribution of potassic alteration; (2) define fault density and orientation of structures; (3) determine the distribution of alkaline rocks and hydrothermal breccias; and (4) identify uniquely colored gangue minerals, such as fluorite and roscoelite, will be critical to exploration and future discoveries. Geophysical techniques that identify potassium (K) anomalies (for example, radiometric and spectroscopic surveys), as well as magnetic, resistivity, aeromagnetic, and gravity surveys, may help locate zones of high-permeability that control advecting hydrothermal fluids. Geochemical surveys that include analyses for Au, Ag, barium, Te, K, F, V, Mo, and mercury, which are key elements in these deposits, should be undertaken along with the measurement of other pathfinder elements such as arsenic, bismuth, Cu, iron, nickel, Pb, antimony, selenium, and Zn.