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Hydrothermal zebra dolomite in the Great Basin, Nevada--attributes and relation to Paleozoic stratigraphy, tectonics, and ore deposits

August 9, 2011

In other parts of the world, previous workers have shown that sparry dolomite in carbonate rocks may be produced by the generation and movement of hot basinal brines in response to arid paleoclimates and tectonism, and that some of these brines served as the transport medium for metals fixed in Mississippi Valley-type (MVT) and sedimentary exhalative (Sedex) deposits of Zn, Pb, Ag, Au, or barite.

Numerous occurrences of hydrothermal zebra dolomite (HZD), comprised of alternating layers of dark replacement and light void-filling sparry or saddle dolomite, are present in Paleozoic platform and slope carbonate rocks on the eastern side of the Great Basin physiographic province. Locally, it is associated with mineral deposits of barite, Ag-Pb-Zn, and Au. In this paper the spatial distribution of HZD occurrences, their stratigraphic position, morphological characteristics, textures and zoning, and chemical and stable isotopic compositions were determined to improve understanding of their age, origin, and relation to dolostone, ore deposits, and the tectonic evolution of the Great Basin.

In northern and central Nevada, HZD is coeval and cogenetic with Late Devonian and Early Mississippian Sedex Au, Zn, and barite deposits and may be related to Late Ordovician Sedex barite deposits. In southern Nevada and southwest California, it is cogenetic with small MVT Ag-Pb-Zn deposits in rocks as young as Early Mississippian. Over Paleozoic time, the Great Basin was at equatorial paleolatitudes with episodes of arid paleoclimates. Several occurrences of HZD are crosscut by Mesozoic or Cenozoic intrusions, and some host younger pluton-related polymetallic replacement and Carlin-type gold deposits.

The distribution of HZD in space (carbonate platform, margin, and slope) and stratigraphy (Late Neoproterozoic Ediacaran–Mississippian) roughly parallels that of dolostone and both are prevalent in Devonian strata. Stratabound HZD is best developed in Ediacaran and Cambrian units, whereas discordant HZD is proximal to high-angle structures at the carbonate platform margin, such as strike-slip and growth faults and dilational jogs. Fabric-selective replacement and dissolution features (e.g., collapse breccias, voids with geopetal textures) are common, with remaining void space lined with light-colored dolomite crystals that exhibit zoning under cathodoluminescence. Zoned crystals usually contain tiny (<1–3 μm) fluid inclusions with vapor bubbles, requiring Th > ∼70 °C. The oxygen isotopic compositions of HZD are consistent with formation temperatures of 50–150 °C requiring brine circulation to depths of 2–5 km, or more. The few HZD occurrences with the highest concentrations of metals (especially Fe, Mn, and Zn) and the largest isotopic shifts are closely associated with Sedex or MVT deposits known to have formed from hotter brines (e.g., Th > 150–250 °C).

These relationships permit that HZD formed at about the same time as dolostone, from brines produced by the evaporation of seawater during arid paleoclimates at equatorial paleolatitudes. Both dolostone and HZD may have formed as basinal brines, which migrated seaward from evaporative pans on the platform, with dolostone forming at low temperatures along shallow migration pathways through permeable limestones, and HZD forming at high temperatures along deeper migration pathways through basal aquifers and dilatant high-angle faults. The small MVT deposits were chemical traps where hot brines encountered rocks or fluids containing reduced sulfur. The abundant Sedex deposits mark sites where hot brine discharged at the seafloor in adjacent basins. Thus the distribution of HZD may map deep migration pathways and upflow zones between eastern shallow marine facies, where evaporative brine could have been generated, and western Sedex deposits, where heated brines discharged along faults into platform margin, slope, and basin facies. The small size and scarcity of Pb-Zn deposits and the abundance of barite deposits in the Great Basin suggests the brines were generally reduced, possibly due to reactions with carbonaceous rocks along deep migration pathways. While this scenario may have occurred at several times, the age and abundance of Sedex deposits suggest that such a hydrology was best developed in the Late Ordovician, Late Devonian, and Early Mississippian, possibly in response to episodes of extension and forebulge faults associated with the Antler orogeny. The improved understanding of HZD may aid future exploration for ore deposits in the Great Basin.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2010
Title Hydrothermal zebra dolomite in the Great Basin, Nevada--attributes and relation to Paleozoic stratigraphy, tectonics, and ore deposits
DOI 10.1130/GES00530.1
Authors S. F. Diehl, A. H. Hofstra, A.E. Koenig, P. Emsbo, W. Christiansen, Chad Johnson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geosphere
Index ID 70003383
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center