Much of the world’s known gold has been derived from arrays of quartz veins. The veins formed during periods of mountain building that occurred as long as 3 billion years ago1,2,3, and were deposited by very large volumes of water that flowed along deep, seismically active faults. The veins formed under fluctuating pressures4,5 during earthquakes6, but the magnitude of the pressure fluctuations and their influence on mineral deposition is not known. Here we use a simple thermo-mechanical piston model to calculate the drop in fluid pressure experienced by a fluid-filled fault cavity during an earthquake. The geometry of the model is constrained using measurements of typical fault jogs, such as those preserved in the Revenge gold deposit in Western Australia7, and other gold deposits around the world. We find that cavity expansion generates extreme reductions in pressure that cause the fluid that is trapped in the jog to expand to a very low-density vapour. Such flash vaporization of the fluid results in the rapid co-deposition of silica with a range of trace elements to form gold-enriched quartz veins. Flash vaporization continues as more fluid flows towards the newly expanded cavity, until the pressure in the cavity eventually recovers to ambient conditions. Multiple earthquakes progressively build economic-grade gold deposits.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Communications Open Access 01 July 2022
Nature Communications Open Access 18 November 2021
Earthquake-induced clastic dyke and fluid inflow at the Miguel Burnier manganese-ore deposit, Quadrilátero Ferrífero of Minas Gerais, Brazil
SN Applied Sciences Open Access 17 February 2021
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $9.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Sibson, R. H., Robert, F. & Poulsen, K. H. High-angle reverse faults, fluid-pressure cycling, and mesothermal gold–quartz deposits. Geology 16, 551–555 (1988).
Boullier, A. M. & Robert, F. Paleoseismic events recorded in Archaean gold–quartz vein networks, Val d’Or, Abitibi, Quebec, Canada. J. Struct. Geol. 14, 161–179 (1992).
Goldfarb, R., Baker, T., Dube, B., Groves, D. I., Hart, C. J. & Gosselin, P. Distribution, character and genesis of gold deposits in metamorphic terranes. Econ. Geol. 100th Anniversary Volume, 407–450 (2005).
Wilkinson, J. J. & Johnston, J. D. Pressure fluctuations, phase separation, and gold precipitation during seismic fracture propagation. Geology 24, 395–398 (1996).
Parry, W. T. Fault-fluid compositions from fluid-inclusion observations and solubilities of fracture-sealing minerals. Tectonophysics 290, 1–26 (1998).
Cox, S. F. & Ruming, K. The St Ives mesothermal gold system, Western Australia—A case of golden aftershocks? J. Struct. Geol. 26, 1109–1125 (2004).
Nguyen, P. T., Cox, S. F., Harris, L. B. & Powell, C. McA. Fault-valve behaviour in optimally oriented shear zones: An example at the Revenge gold mine, Kambalda, Western Australia. J. Struct. Geol. 20, 1625–1640 (1998).
Frimmel, H. E. Earth’s continental crust gold endowment. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 267, 45–55 (2008).
Phillips, G. N. & Powell, R. Formation of gold deposits: A metamorphic devolatilization model. J. Metamorph. Petrol. 28, 689–718 (2010).
Cox, S. F., Knackstedt, M. A. & Braun, J. in Structural Controls on Ore Genesis Vol. 14 (eds Richards, J. P. & Tosdal, R. M.) 1–24 (Society of Economic Geologists Review, Society of Economic Geologists, 2001).
Clark, M. E., Carmichael, M. D., Hodgson, C. J. & Fu, M. in The Geology of Gold Deposits: The Perspective in 1988 (eds Keays, R. R., Ramsay, W. R. H. & Groves, D. I.) 445–459 (Economic Geology Monograph, Vol. 6, Society of Economic Geologists, 1989).
Aki, K. Generation and propagation of G waves from the Niigata earthquake of June 14, 1964. Part 2. Estimation of earthquake moment, released energy and stress-strain drop from G wave spectrum. Bull. Earthq. Res. Inst. 44, 73–88 (1966).
Sheldon, H. A. & Ord, A. Evolution of porosity, permeability and fluid pressure in dilatant faults post-failure: Implications for fluid flow and mineralization. Geofluids 5, 272–288 (2005).
Cox, S. F. Coupling between deformation, fluid pressures and fluid flow in ore-producing hydrothermal environments. Econ. Geol. 100th Anniversary Volume, 39–75 (2005).
Shelly, D. R. Migrating tremors illuminate complex deformation beneath the seismogenic San Andreas fault. Nature 463, 648–653 (2010).
Boiron, M. C., Cathelineau, M., Banks, D. A., Fourcade, S. & Vallance, J. Mixing of metamorphic and surficial fluids during the uplift of the Hercynian upper crust: Consequences for gold deposition. Chem. Geol. 194, 119–141 (2003).
Migdisov, A. A. & Williams-Jones, A. E. A predictive model for metal transport of silver chloride by aqueous vapour in ore-forming magmatic-hydrothermal systems. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 104, 123–135 (2013).
Pitcairn, I. K., Teagle, D. A. H., Craw, D., Olivo, G. R., Kerrich, R. & Brewer, T. S. Sources of metals and fluids in orogenic gold deposits: insights from the Otago and Alpine Schists, New Zealand. Econ. Geol. 101, 1525–1546 (2006).
Dolejs, D. & Manning, C. E. Thermodynamic model for mineral solubility in aqueous fluids: Theory, calibration and application to model fluid-flow systems. Geofluids 10, 20–40 (2010).
Tanner, D., Henley, R. W., Mavrogenes, J. A. & Mernagh, T. in XVI Congreso Peruano de Geologia SEG 2012 Conf. Lima, September 23–26, Poster 100 (Society of Economic Geologists, 2012).
Kind, M. & Kaiser, R. Flash Crystallization—A new process for designing crystalline powders. 17th Int. Symp. Industrial Crystallization Vol. 1, 111–118 (Society of Economic Geologists, 2008).
Kind, M. Colloidal aspects of precipitation processes. Chem. Eng. Sci. 57, 4287–4293 (2002).
Herrington, R. J. & Wilkinson, J. J. Colloidal gold and silica in mesothermal vein systems. Geology 21, 539–542 (1993).
Vityk, M. O. & Bodnar, R. J. Textural evolution of synthetic fluid inclusions in quartz during reequilibration, with applications to tectonic reconstruction. Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 121, 309–323 (1995).
Robinson, R. Potential earthquake triggering in a complex fault network: The northern South Island, New Zealand. Geophys. J. Int. 159, 734–748 (2004).
Drew, L. J., Berger, B. R. & Kurbanov, N. K. Geology and structural evolution of the Muruntau gold deposit, Kyzylkum Desert, Uzbekistan. Ore Geol. Rev. 11, 175–196 (1996).
Frimmel, H. E. & Minter, W. E. L. Recent developments concerning the geological history and genesis of the witwatersrand gold deposits, South Africa. Soc. Econ. Geol. Special Publ. 9, 17–45 (2002).
Hanks, T. C. & Kanamori, H. A moment magnitude scale. J. Geophys. Res. 84, B2348–B2350 (1979).
Leonard, L. Earthquake fault scaling: Self-consistent relating of rupture length, width, average displacement, and moment release. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am. 100, 1971–1988 (2010).
Henley, R. W. & Hughes, G. O. Underground fumaroles: ‘Excess heat’ effects in vein formation. Econ. Geol. 95, 453–466 (2000).
R.W.H. wishes to express his thanks to S. Cox and B. Berger for their constructive comments on this paper and stimulating discussions over several decades. D.K.W. would like to thank R.W.H., D. Wood and his colleagues at the W. H. Bryan Mining and Geology Research Centre for encouragement to consider seismological implications for mineral deposition. D. Tanner also kindly provided constructive comments.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Weatherley, D., Henley, R. Flash vaporization during earthquakes evidenced by gold deposits. Nature Geosci 6, 294–298 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1759
Nature Communications (2022)
Fluid pressure–dominated orogenic gold mineralization under low differential stress: case of the Yaouré gold camp, Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa
Mineralium Deposita (2022)
Nature Communications (2021)
Science China Earth Sciences (2021)
Sources of auriferous fluids associated with a Neoarchean BIF-hosted orogenic gold deposit revealed by the multiple sulfur isotopic compositions of zoned pyrites
Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology (2021)