K/Ar age determinations or supergene alunite and jarosite, formed during Neogene weathering of the epithermal silver and base-metal ores of the Creede mining district, have been combined with geologic evidence to estimate the timing of regional uplift of the southern Rocky Mountains and related canyon cutting. In addition, oxygen and hydrogen isotopic studies suggest climate changes in the central San Juan Mountains during the past 5 m.y. Alunite [ideally (K,Na)Al3(SO4)2(OH)6] and jarosite [ideally KFe3(SO4)2(OH)6] can be dated by K/Ar or 40Ar/39Ar techniques and both contain OH and SO4 sites that enable four stable isotope analyses (δD, δ18OOH, and δ34S) to be made. This supergene alunite and jarosite formed by weathering of sulfide-rich ore bodies may record the evolution of the chemical and hydrologic processes affecting ancient oxidized acid ground water, as well as details of climate history and geomorphic evolution. Fine-grained (1-10 μm) supergene alunite and jarosite occur in minor fractures in the upper, oxidized parts of the 25 Ma sulfide-bearing veins of the Creede mining district, and jarosite also occurs in adjacent oxidized Ag-bearing clastic sediments. K/Ar ages for alunite range from 4.8 to 3.1 Ma, and for jarosite range from 2.6 to 0.9 Ma. The δD values for alunite and jarosite show opposite correlations with elevation, and values for jarosite correlate with age. Calculated δDH2O values of alunite fluids approach but are larger than those of present-day meteoric water. Calculated δDH2O values for jarosite fluids are more variable; the values of the youngest jarosites are lowest and are similar to those of present-day meteoric water in the district. The narrow δD-δ18OSO4 values of alunites reflects oxidation of sulfide below the water table. The greater range in these values for jarosites reflects oxidation of sulfide under vadose conditions. The ages of alunite mark the position of the paleo-water table at the end of a period of moderate erosion from ca. 25 to 5 Ma that exposed the tops of the ore bodies to oxidation. The younger jarosite formed in the vadose zone during or following subsequent canyon cutting related to regional uplift of the southern Rocky Mountains, The δD values suggest that climates in the area were similar to those of the present day prior to regional uplift but went through a warm period before returning to present conditions during or after regional uplift. The results of this study indicate that the combined stable and radiogenic isotope analysis of supergene alunite and jarosite has broad application in understanding climate and geomorphic evolution of selected areas.
Additional publication details
Neogene geomorphic and climatic evolution of the central San Juan Mountains, Colorado: K/Ar age and stable isotope data on supergene alunite and jarosite from the Creede mining district