Uraniferous opal, Virgin Valley, Nevada: conditions of formation and implications for uranium exploration

Journal of Geochemical Exploration



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Uraniferous, fluorescent opal, which occurs in tuffaceous sedimentary rocks at Virgin Valley, Nevada, records the temperature and composition of uranium-rich solutions as well as the time of uranium-silica coprecipitation. Results are integrated with previous geologic and geochronologic data for the area to produce a model for uranium mobility that may be used to explore for uranium deposits in similar geologic settings. Uraniferous opal occurs as replacements of diatomite, or silicic air-fall ash layers in tuffaceous lakebeds of the Virgin Valley Formation (Miocene) of Merriam (1907). Fission-track radiography shows uranium to be homogeneously dispersed throughout the opal structure, suggesting coprecipitation of dissolved uranium and silica gel. Fluid inclusions preserved within opal replacements of diatomite have homogenization temperatures in the epithermal range and are of low salinity. Four samples of opal from one locality all have U-Pb apparent ages which suggest uraniferous opal precipitation in late Pliocene time. These ages correspond to a period of local, normal faulting, and highangle faults may have served as vertical conduits for transport of deep, thermalized ground water to shallower levels. Lateral migration of rising solutions occurred at intersections of faults with permeable strata. Silica and some uranium were dissolved from silica-rich host strata of 5-20 ppm original uranium content and reprecipitated as the solutions cooled. The model predicts that in similar geologic settings, ore-grade concentrations of uranium will occur in permeable strata that intersect high-angle faults and that contain uranium source rocks as well as efficient reductant traps for uranium. In the absence of sufficient quantities of reductant materials, uranium will be flushed from the system or will accumulate in low-grade disseminated hosts such as uraniferous opal. ?? 1982.

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Uraniferous opal, Virgin Valley, Nevada: conditions of formation and implications for uranium exploration
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Journal of Geochemical Exploration
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Journal of Geochemical Exploration
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