The Crofoot-Lewis deposit is an adularia-sericite-type (low-sulfidation) epithermal Au-Ag deposit, whose well-preserved paleosurface includes abundant opaline sinters, widespread and intense silicification, bedded hydrothermal eruption breccias, and a large zone of acid sulfate alteration. Radiogenic isotope ages indicate that the system was relatively long-lived, with hydrothermal activity starting around 4 Ma and extending, at least intermittently, for the next 3 m.y. Field evidence indicates that the surficial zone of acid sulfate alteration formed in a steam-heated environment within an active geothermal system. A drop in the water table enabled descending acid sulfate waters to leach Au and Ag from zones of low-grade disseminated mineralization, resulting in the redistribution and concentration of Au and Ag into ore-grade concentrations. These zones of secondary Au-Ag enrichment are associated with opal + alunite + kaolinite + montmorillonite ?? hematite and were deposited in open space fractures at, and within a few tens of meters below, the paleowater table. The stable isotope systematics of alunite and kaolinite in the steam-heated environment are relatively complex, due to variations in the residence time of aqueous SO4 that formed from the oxidation of H2S prior to precipitation of alunite, and the susceptibility of fine-grained kaolinites to hydrogen isotope exchange with later waters. Most of the alunites are enriched in 34S relative to early sulfide minerals, reflecting partial S isotope exchange between aqueous SO4 and H2S. About half of the alunites give reasonable calculated ??18OSO4-OH temperatures for a steam-heated environment indicating O isotope equilibrium between aqueous SO4 and water. The ??5DH2O values of the hydrothermal fluids varied by almost 60 per mil over the life of the meteoric water-dominated system, suggesting significant climate changes. Mineralization is believed to have resulted from large-scale convection of meteoric water controlled largely by basin and range fractures and a high geothermal gradient with H2S for Au complexing derived from organic matter in basin sediments. A wet climate resulted in the formation of a large inland lake which provided abundant recharge water for the hydrothermal system. A fluctuating water table controlled by changing climatic conditions enabled steam-heated acid sulfate fluids to overprint lower grade mineralization resulting in ore-grade precious metal enrichment.
Additional publication details
Secondary precious metal enrichment by steam-heated fluids in the Crofoot-Lewis hot spring gold-silver deposit and relation to paleoclimate