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A review of silver-rich mineral deposits and their metallogeny

January 1, 2010

Mineral deposits with large inventories or high grades of silver are found in four genetic groups: (1) volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS), (2) sedimentary exhalative (SEDEX), (3) lithogene, and, (4) magmatichydrothermal. Principal differences between the four groups relate to source rocks and regions, metal associations, process and timing of mineralization, and tectonic setting. These four groups may be subdivided into specific metal associations on ternary diagrams based on relative metal contents.

The VMS deposits rarely contain more than 15,600 t Ag (500 Moz). Grades average 33 g/t Ag. Variable Ag- Pb-Zn-Cu-Au ± Sn concentrations are interpreted as having been derived both from shallow plutons and by leaching of the volcanic rock pile in regions of thin or no continental crust and the mineralization is syngenetic. Higher silver grades are associated with areas of abundant felsic volcanic rocks. The SEDEX deposits rarely contain more than 15,600 t Ag (500 Moz). Grades average 46 g/t Ag. Silver, lead, and zinc in relatively consistent proportions are leached from sedimentary rocks filling rift-related basins, where the continental crust is thin, and deposited as syngenetic to diagenetic massive sulfides. Pre-mineral volcanic rocks and their detritus may occur deep within the basin and gold is typically absent.

Lithogene silver-rich deposits are epigenetic products of varying combinations of compaction, dewatering, meteoric water recharge, and metamorphism of rift basin-related clastic sedimentary and interbedded volcanic rocks. Individual deposits may contain more than 15,600 t Ag (500 Moz) at high grades. Ores are characterized by four well-defined metal associations, including Ag, Ag-Pb-Zn, Ag-Cu, and Ag-Co-Ni-U. Leaching, transport, and deposition of metals may occur both in specific sedimentary strata and other rock types adjacent to the rift. Multiple mineralizing events lasting 10 to 15 m.y., separated by as much as 1 b.y., may occur in a single basin. Gold is absent at economic levels.

The magmatic-hydrothermal silver-rich deposits are epigenetic and related to cordilleran igneous and volcanic suites. Six magmatic-hydrothermal districts each contain more than 31,000 t Ag (1,000 Moz) with grades of veins >600 g/t Ag. Mineralization occurs as veins, massive sulfides in carbonate rocks, and disseminated deposits including porphyry silver deposits, a proposed exploration model. Most deposits are epithermal with low-sulfidation alteration assemblages. Deposits are often telescoped and well-zoned. All large and high-grade magmatic-hydrothermal deposits appear confined to regions of relatively thick continental crust above Cenozoic consuming plate margins on the eastern side of the Pacific Rim. Silver in these deposits may be partly derived by hydrothermal leaching of rocks under or adjacent to the deposits.

Specific metal associations in SEDEX and lithogene deposits may reflect confinement of fluid flow to and derivation of metals from specific source rock types. Variable metal associations in VMS and magmatichydrothermal deposits may reflect derivation of metals from a more diverse suite of rocks by convecting hydrothermal systems and processes related to the generation of magma. The discovery rate for silver-rich deposits has accelerated during the past decade, with new deposit types, metal associations, and exploration models being identified that provide numerous exploration and research opportunities.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2010
Title A review of silver-rich mineral deposits and their metallogeny
Authors Frederick T. Graybeal, Peter G. Vikre
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70194333
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center