Magmatic–hydrothermal origin of Nevada’s Carlin-type gold deposits

Abstract

The Eocene epoch in the Great Basin of western North America was a period of profuse magmatism and hydrothermal activity. During that period, the Carlin-type gold deposits in Nevada were produced, Earth’s second largest concentration of gold after deposits in South Africa. The characteristics of the Carlin-type deposits have been documented, but a widely acceptable explanation for their genesis is outstanding. Here we integrate microanalyses of ore minerals, experimental data that describe metal partitioning, and published age and isotopic data, to suggest that the gold is sourced from magma. We relate gold deposition to a change from shallow subduction to renewed magmatism and the onset of extension. We propose that upwelling asthenosphere impinged on a strongly modified subcontinental lithospheric mantle, generating magmas that released gold-bearing fluids at depths of 10 to 12 km. The rising aqueous fluids with elevated hydrogen sulphide concentrations and a high ratio of gold to copper underwent phase changes and mixed with meteoric water. Within a few kilometres of the surface, the fluids dissolved and sulphidized carbonate wall rocks, leading to deposition of gold-bearing pyrite. We conclude that the large number and size of Carlin-type deposits in Nevada is the result of an unusual convergence of a specific geologic setting, together with a tectonic trigger that led to extremely efficient transport and deposition of gold.

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Figure 1: Locations of CTGDs in northern Nevada.
Figure 2: Schematic cross-section from mantle to the surface (looking east).
Figure 3: Phase diagram of the NaCl–H2O system.
Figure 4: Images and analyses of ore-stage pyrite.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (EAR awards 0635657 to J.L.M., 0635658 to J.S.C. and 0609550 to A.C.S.), the US Geological Survey’s Mineral Resources External Research Program, Placer Dome Exploration and Barrick Gold Corporation.

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J.L.M., J.S.C., A.C.S. and A.A.L. conceived the model for the CTGDs. J.L.M. took the lead in preparation of the manuscript and figures and contributed Supplementary Data S1. J.S.C. and A.A.L. contributed Supplementary Data S2 and A.C.S. contributed Supplementary Data S3.

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Correspondence to John L. Muntean.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Muntean, J., Cline, J., Simon, A. et al. Magmatic–hydrothermal origin of Nevada’s Carlin-type gold deposits. Nature Geosci 4, 122–127 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1064

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