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Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous orogenic gold mineralization in the Klamath Mountains, California: Constraints from 40Ar/39Ar dating of hydrothermal muscovite

January 4, 2022

The Klamath Mountains gold province is the second most important historical producer in California, having produced more than 7 Moz of gold from both lode and placer sources. Hydrothermal muscovite grains from gold-bearing veins provide the first 40Ar/39Ar age constraints indicative of a protracted period of mineralization in the Klamath Mountains. The data indicate that the window for orogenic gold mineralization in the Klamath Mountains was from ∼160–140 Ma, coinciding in age with the oldest orogenic gold deposits in the Sierra Nevada foothills province to the south, although mineralization continued in the latter along the Mother Lode belt for another 20–30 million years. Despite the broad age overlap between hydrothermal activity and magmatism, the former relates to a regional thermal event, and there is no genetic link between the two. Instead, a correlation exists between the timing of lode gold formation and discrete tectonic events, changes in stress regime, and fault movement. The maximum age corresponds to a major plate reorganization in the Pacific basin and initial gold mineralization continuing into the Sierra Nevada foothills gold province to the south. The minimum age corresponds to the westerly lateral offset of the Klamath Mountains from the Sierra Nevada and the then-active arc, marking the termination of both magmatism and gold-producing hydrothermal activity in the Klamath Mountains. Lode gold mineralization in the Klamath Mountains is compatible with a crustal source of metals and fluids that were released during metamorphic devolatilization and focused via hydrothermal fluid flow along regional faults.