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Calcrete uranium deposits in the Southern High Plains, USA

April 25, 2019

The Southern High Plains (SHP) is a new and emerging U.S. uranium province. Here, uranyl vanadates form deposits in Pliocene to Pleistocene sandstone, dolomite, and limestone. Fifteen calcrete uranium occurrences are identified; two of these, the Buzzard Draw and Sulfur Springs Draw deposits, have combined in-place resources estimated at about 4 million pounds of U3O8. Ore minerals carnotite and finchite are hosted in dolomite at the Sulfur Springs Draw deposit, with accessory fluorite, celestine, smectite/illite, autunite, and strontium carbonate. Host carbonate at the Sulfur Springs Draw deposit is ∼190 ka and mineralization mobilized as recently as 3.8 ka. Ash collected near the deposit is 631 ka and erupted from the Yellowstone caldera complex. The Triassic Dockum Group that contains sandstone-hosted uranium deposits throughout the region and underlies the SHP is a potential source for uranium and vanadium. Regional uplift and dissection reintroduced oxygenated groundwater into the Dockum Group, mobilizing uranium. Additional uranium may have been contributed to groundwater by weathering of volcanic ash in Pliocene and Pleistocene host rocks. The locations of the uranium occurrences are mostly in modern drainage systems in the southeast portion of the SHP. Modelling of modern groundwater in the SHP carried out in a parallel study shows that a single fluid could form carnotite through evaporation, and that fluids of the requisite composition are more prevalent in the southern portion of the SHP. The southeastern portion of the SHP hosts more uranium occurrences due to a variety of factors including (1) upward transport of groundwater and connectivity between source and host rock, (2) higher uranium and vanadium content of groundwater, (3) higher rates of groundwater recharge in this region to drive the mineralizing system, and (4) shallower groundwater facilitating surface evaporation. Ongoing erosion of host rocks challenges preservation of deposits and may limit their size.

Publication Year 2019
Title Calcrete uranium deposits in the Southern High Plains, USA
DOI 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2019.03.036
Authors Susan Hall, Bradley S. Van Gosen, James B. Paces, Robert A. Zielinski
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ore Geology Reviews
Index ID 70203164
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Energy Resources Science Center; Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center; Mineral Resources Program