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Quartz-pebble-conglomerate gold deposits: Chapter P in Mineral deposit models for resource assessment

May 17, 2018

Quartz-pebble-conglomerate gold deposits represent the largest repository of gold on Earth, largely due to the deposits of the Witwatersrand Basin, which account for nearly 40 percent of the total gold produced throughout Earth’s history. This deposit type has had a controversial history in regards to genetic models. However, most researchers conclude that they are paleoplacer deposits that have been modified by metamorphism and hydrothermal fluid flow subsequent to initial sedimentation.

The deposits are found exclusively within fault-bounded depositional basins. The periphery of these basins commonly consists of granite-greenstone terranes, classic hosts for lode gold that source the detrital material infilling the basin. The gold reefs are typically located along unconformities or, less commonly, at the top of sedimentary beds. Large quartz pebbles and heavy-mineral concentrates are found associated with the gold. Deposits that formed prior to the Great Oxidation Event (circa 2.4 giga-annum [Ga]) contain pyrite, whereas younger deposits contain iron oxides. Uranium minerals and hydrocarbons are also notable features of some deposits.

Much of the gold in these types of deposits forms crystalline features that are the product of local remobilization. However, some gold grains preserve textures that are undoubtedly of detrital origin. Other heavy minerals, such as pyrite, contain growth banding that is truncated along broken margins, which indicates that they were transported into place as opposed to forming by in situ growth in a hydrothermal setting.

The ore tailings associated with these deposits commonly contain uranium-rich minerals and sulfides. Oxidation of the sulfides releases sulfuric acid and mobilizes various metals into the environment. The neutralizing potential of the tailings is minimal, since carbonate minerals are rare. The continuity of the tabular ore bodies, such as those of the Witwatersrand Basin, has allowed these mines to be the deepest in the world. The extreme depths create engineering complications and safety issues for the miners, such as rock bursts as a result of pressure release.

The richness of these deposits makes them a desirable exploration target. However, the likelihood of future discoveries is minimal. Small deposits found in the United States include those found at Nemo in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Deep Lake in the Sierra Madre of Wyoming.