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Testing the potential role of brine reflux in the formation of sedimentary exhalative (Sedex) ore deposits

October 12, 2018

Sedimentary exhalative (sedex) ore deposits are the world’s largest Zn-Pb deposits. While the geologic processes that formed these deposits are generally well understood, the fundamental hydrologic processes that drove these massive hydrothermal systems remain an area of debate. We use numerical modeling to test an emerging hypothesis, supported by recent ore genesis research and sedex basin analysis, that brine reflux flow systems produced and drove the fluids that formed sedex deposits. A previous numerical model of brine reflux, developed to study dolomitization, is adapted to a sedimentary basin with geologic features essential for sedex formation. We simulate the flow of evaporated brines through the basin and the evolution of salinity, temperature, and flow rates, and find that modeled values for these parameters for brines discharging to the seafloor exceed previously established physiochemical thresholds for ore formation (>170 g/L, >80°C, and total discharge volumes >107 m3 per meter perpendicular to the 2D model section). Sensitivity testing of this modest-sized basin highlights the large effect that aspects of the hydrogeologic framework can have on mineralizing potential of the reflux brines. Finally, modeling alternating periods of active and inactive evaporation produces pulsed brine reflux systems capable of producing multiple deposits of different age as observed in many sedex basins. The modeling thus supports the hypothesis that seawater evaporation on the basin margin significantly inboard of sedex deposits may be responsible for their formation. Sensitivity testing suggests that numerical models with more detailed, basin-specific geologic frameworks might be useful for assessing the mineral potential of sedimentary basins.

Publication Year 2019
Title Testing the potential role of brine reflux in the formation of sedimentary exhalative (Sedex) ore deposits
DOI 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2018.10.003
Authors Andrew H. Manning, Poul Emsbo
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ore Geology Reviews
Index ID 70207113
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center; Forest and Rangeland Ecosys Science Center