The rate at which ore deposits form is one of the least well established parameters in all of economic geology. However, increased detail in sampling, improved technology of dating, and sophistication in modeling are reducing the uncertainties and establishing that ore formation, at least for the porphyry copper-skarn-epithermal base and precious metals deposit package, may take place in surprisingly brief intervals. This contribution applies another approach to examine the duration of mineralization. The degree to which compositional gradients within single crystals has flattened through solid-state diffusion offers a measure of the thermal dose (that is temperature combined with time) that the crystals have been subjected to since deposition. Here we examine the steepness of gradients in iron content within individual single sphalerite crystals from the epithermal silver-lead-zinc deposit in the OH vein at Creede, Colorado. Two initial textures are considered: growth-banded crystals and compositionally contrasting overgrowths that succeed crosscutting dissolution or fractured surfaces. The model used estimates the maximum possible time by assuming a perfectly sharp original compositional step, and it asks how long it would take at a known temperature for the gradient measured today to have formed. Applying the experimentally determined diffusion rates of Mizuta (1988a) to compositional gradients (ranging from 0.4-2.2 mol % FeS/??m) measured by the electron microprobe in 2-??m steps on banded sphalerite formed early in the paragenetic history yields a maximum duration of less than ???10,000 yr. Sphalerite from a solution unconformity in a position midway through the paragenetic sequence is indistinguishable from instantaneous deposition, supporting the conclusion of rapid ore formation. While this formation interval seems very brief, it is consistent with less well constrained estimates using entirely different criteria. ?? 2005 Society of Economic Geologists, Inc.
Additional publication details
Environment of ore deposition in the Creede mining district, San Juan Mountains, Colorado: Part VI. Maximum duration for mineralization of the OH vein