Many of the world's richest gold placer deposits now occur in cold regions despite differences in their climatic history. It therefore seems possible that there may be some fundamental connection between freezing climates and the local chemical behavior of gold in the weathering cycle. This hypothesis, along with the problematical occurrence of gold as euhedral crystals in arctic gravel and soil placers, has led me to review low temperature phenomena that may bear on the geochemistry of gold. Several effects which may influence the weathering of natural gold-bearing rocks, the chemical complexation of gold, and its subsequent mobility and deposition appear to be strongly connected with freeze action. The exclusion of dissolved solutes, solute gases, and particles from ice, subjects rock and soil minerals to increased corrosion from thin, unfrozen, adsorbed water films which remain at particle surfaces throughout the freezing of rocks and soils. The preferential exclusion of cations (over anions) from growing ice crystals creates charge separations and measurable current flow across waterice phase boundaries in freezing soil - a phenomenon which leads to troublesome seasonal electrolytic corrosion of pipelines buried in soil; this phenomenon may also favor the dissolution of normally insoluble metals such as gold during geologic time periods. The ice-induced accumulation of clays, organic acids, bacteria, and other organic matter at mineral surfaces may also speed chemical attack by providing a nearby sink of alternate cation-binding sites and hence rapid removal of liberated cations from solution. The latter mechanism may be operative in both the dissolution and redeposition of gold. These physical, chemical, and electrical effects are favorable to the dissolution of rocks (in addition to frost shattering) and to the dissolution, mobilization, and redeposition of gold and other noble metals and must therefore contribute significantly to the behavior of gold at low temperatures. The occurrence of large numbers of gold placer deposits in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia may thus be due in part to the low temperatures common to these regions. ?? 1985.
Additional publication details
Crystalline gold in soil and the problem of supergene nugget formation: Freezing and exclusion as genetic mechanisms