The Southern California Continental Borderland (SCCB) is part of the broad San Andreas transform-fault plate boundary that consists of a series of fault-bounded, petroleum-generating basins. The SCCB has high heat flow and geothermal gradients produced by thinned continental crust and Neogene volcanism. Barite deposits in the SCCB occur along faults.
Barite samples from two sea-cliff sites and four offshore sites in the SCCB were analyzed for mineralogy, chemical (54 elements) and isotopic (S, Sr) compositions, and petrography. Barite from Palos Verdes (PV) Peninsula sea-cliff outcrops is hosted by the Miocene Monterey Formation and underlying basalt; carbonate rocks from those outcrops were analyzed for C, O, and Sr isotopes and the basalt for S isotopes. Cold-seep barite from Monterey Bay, California was analyzed for comparison. SCCB offshore samples occur at water depths from about 500 to 1800 m. Those barites vary significantly in texture and occurrence, from friable, highly porous actively growing seafloor mounds to dense, brecciated, vein barite. This latter type of barite contrasts with cold-seep barite in being much more coarse grained, forms thick veins in places, and completely replaced rock clasts in breccia.
The barite samples range from 94 to 99 wt% BaSO4, with low trace-element contents, except for high Sr, Zr, Br, U, and Hg concentrations compared to their crustal abundances. δ34S for SCCB offshore barites range from 21.6‰ to 67.4‰, and for PV barite from 62‰ to 70‰. Pyrite from PV sea-cliff basalt and sedimentary rocks that host the barites averages 7.8‰ and 2.2‰, respectively. Two offshore barite samples have δ34S values (21.6‰, 22.1‰) close to that of modern seawater sulfate, whereas all other samples are enriched to strongly enriched in 34S. 87Sr/86Sr ratios for the barites vary over a narrow range of 0.70830–0.70856 and are much lower than that of modern seawater and also lower than the middle Miocene seawater ratio, the time of deposition of the host rocks for the PV samples. This indicates that the mineralizing fluids were not unaltered seawater.
We develop a model in which the barites precipitated both below the sediment–water interface and at the seafloor from low-temperature fluids that circulated along faults. The isotopic, chemical, and textural data indicate that the barites formed by several processes. Mesozoic and Cenozoic basement rocks (crystalline and overlying sedimentary rocks), Quaternary basin fill, turbidite fans, and seawater provided various elements for the barites in different environments. The fluids had a deep-seated source and were hydrothermal in the deeper parts of the system for all the barite types, including the seafloor cold-seep deposit, based on Sr isotopes and regional geothermal gradients. These deep-seated fluids mixed with other fluids as they ascended, including seawater at and near the seafloor. The high δ34S values may have resulted from extreme Rayleigh fractionation during bacterially mediated (semi)closed-system sulfate reduction, probably driven by the flux of methane- and hydrocarbon-bearing fluids through basement rocks and basin sediments. Early diagenetic dolomite and pyrite in the host Monterey Formation in the PV Headland also formed in a zone of sulfate reduction, but within sediment buried only centimeters to a few meters and with a predominantly seawater source for the sulfur. Dolomite occurring with vein barite in the PV Headland formed at temperatures in the range of 40–90 °C. The cold-seep barites have δ34S values near that of modern seawater, although still somewhat fractionated. The barites that precipitated below the sediment–water interface have higher δ34S values, suggesting that the fluids were relatively reduced with molar dissolved barium in excess of dissolved sulfate. Those samples were exposed at the seafloor by uplift along faults and are composed predominantly of massive, brecciated, and vein barite.