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Sedex hydrothermal systems triggered upheavals to marine chemistry and mass extinctions: Applications for ore genesis research and mineral exploration

May 1, 2021

New USGS research reveals that the discharge of metal-rich brine that formed sedex deposits on ancient seafloors had profound effects on global ocean chemistry and biologic evolution. For example, brine expulsion caused short-duration positive excursions (“spikes”) in the global marine Sr isotope record. While these spikes are unexplained by conventional oceanic models, our chronostratigraphic correlations of major sedex events, combined with mass balance evidence and oceanographic modeling, confirm that the flux of radiogenic Sr from sedex brines during ore formation was sufficient to cause these once enigmatic 87Sr/86Sr spikes. Recognition that the timing of peak 87Sr/86Sr spikes correlates exactly with global δ13C (and δ18O) spikes, climate change, deposition of metal-rich black shales and ironstones, metal-induced malformation (teratology) of marine organisms, and mass extinctions, establishes a causal relationship between sedex deposits and these dramatic events in earth history. The relationships among these features are not fully understood. However, our new model demonstrates that the flux of key biolimiting nutrients and metals contained in sedex brines exceeds that of the total modern riverine flux to the ocean. Undoubtably, these immense nutrient fluxes spurred ocean eutrophication, which, ultimately, through a series of positive feedback mechanisms, may be a previously unrecognized trigger of global ocean anoxic events (OAEs) that produced these chemical and biological perturbations. A derivative result from this integrative research is the recognition that OAEs resulted in the formation of “bathtub rim” deposits at redox boundaries along continental margins that concentrated various redox sensitive critical minerals. For example, we have identified midcontinent phosphorite deposits that contains heavy REE grades and tonnages that rival any REE deposit in the world.

The recognition that sedex-forming fluid expulsion events are recorded in the global marine isotopic, geologic, and biological records, defines a new approach to the study of and exploration for sedex deposits. Traditional ore genesis research, coupled with chronostratigraphic correlation and high-resolution 87Sr/86Sr isotope chemostratigraphy can be used to answer long-standing questions about geologic processes responsible for formation of these extraordinary deposits. This approach allows us to constrain, for the first time, the age, duration, and fluxes of fluids and metals vented into the ocean by these giant hydrothermal systems. Accordingly, the fact that large mineralizing events are recorded in the marine sedimentary record opens the tantalizing prospect that we have the ability to conduct effective resource assessments and define prospective basins anywhere in the world. This innovative approach allows for identification of favorable stratigraphic ages and basins and remote evaluation of the size (and, thus, the mineral potential) of undiscovered mineral deposits. This methodology could be applied on regional basin-wide assessments, to evaluate sedimentary basin prospectivity, resource favorability of specific horizons therein, and to the evaluation of the potential of early-stage prospects.

Publication Year 2021
Title Sedex hydrothermal systems triggered upheavals to marine chemistry and mass extinctions: Applications for ore genesis research and mineral exploration
Authors Poul Emsbo
Publication Type Newsletter
Publication Subtype Newsletter
Series Title Geological Society of Nevada Newsletter
Index ID 70220240
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center