Young (<7 Ma) gold deposits and active geothermal systems of the Great Basin: Enigmas, questions, and exploration potential

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Abstract

Young gold systems in the Great Basin (£ 7 Ma), though not as well studied as their older counterparts, comprise a rapidly growing and in some ways controversial group. The gold inventory for these systems has more than doubled in the last 5 years from roughly 370 tonnes (12 Moz) to 890 tonnes (29 Moz). Although these deposits are characterized by low grades, tonnages can be high and stripping ratios low, and they have been mined profitably, as exemplified by Florida Canyon and Hycroft. Active geothermal systems in the Great Basin also comprise a rapidly growing group, as evidenced by a number of recent discoveries of geothermal groundwater and a more than 50% increase in electricity production capacity from these systems in the last 5 years.

Many young gold deposits are closely associated with active geothermal systems, suggesting that gold deposits may be forming today in the Great Basin. Measured or estimated geothermal reservoir temperatures commonly approach or exceed 200∞C, and other characteristics and processes (advanced argillic caps, hydrothermal eruption breccias) of these young deposits resemble those of nearby Tertiary precious metal deposits. Nonetheless, many young gold systems, especially in Nevada, are not associated with coeval igneous rocks. Similarly, almost all electricity-grade geothermal systems in Nevada are not associated with Quaternary silicic volcanic rocks, and have lower temperature gradients, lower 3He/4He ratios, and lower dissolved trace element concentrations than most magmatic-heated geothermal systems elsewhere in the world.

The increasing economic significance of young gold deposits and active geothermal systems justifies more research to better understand their origins, particularly because in some aspects they remain enigmatic and controversial. Are young gold deposits in Nevada truly amagmatic, or have they received metal and fluid contributions from magmas deeper within the crust? Has gold in these deposits been remobilized from older gold mineralization? Current research is investigating these and other questions to improve our genetic understanding of these young gold systems, which in turn can lead to improved exploration targeting.

The recent rapid growth in resources for both young gold deposits and geothermal systems underscores their underdeveloped exploration potential. Even though many young gold deposits exhibit relatively shallow hot-springs-style mineralization, their young age may preclude exposure by erosion. Uplift along active normal faults has exposed some deposits (e.g., Florida Canyon, Dixie Comstock, Wind Mountain), but in other areas, such as the Walker Lane, where strike-slip faulting is prevalent, the opportunities for exposure can be limited. Many active geothermal systems are also concealed below the surface in that hot springs or steam vents may be absent above areas of thermal groundwater.

With sources of energy to support mine production becoming more problematic, the potential advantages of simultaneously exploring for young gold deposits and spatially associated geothermal systems are becoming more apparent. Exploration methods recently proven effective in geothermal exploration that can be adapted to gold exploration include temperature surveys, hyperspectral remote sensing, geophysical surveys, water analyses, and detailed mapping of geothermal-related features and related fault systems.

Additional publication details

Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Young (<7 Ma) gold deposits and active geothermal systems of the Great Basin: Enigmas, questions, and exploration potential
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of Nevada
Contributing office(s) Western Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
Description 15 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Conference publication
Larger Work Title Geological Society of Nevada Symposium 2010: Great Basin Evolution and Metallogeny
First page 845
Last page 859
Conference Title Geological Society of Nevada Symposium 2010: Great Basin Evolution and Metallogeny
Conference Location Reno, NV
Conference Date May 14-22, 2010