Using stream-side groundwater discharge for geochemical exploration in mountainous terrain

Journal of Geochemical Exploration
By: , and 



Groundwater chemistry has been predominantly used in geochemical exploration studies to identify mineralized targets concealed under transported cover in areas with gentle topography. Another potentially valuable ap-plication that has received little attention is using groundwater chemistry to identify deposits concealed within mountain ridges. A number of geochemical exploration studies have employed surface water chemistry in hilly and mountainous terrain and have demonstrated mixed success. However, groundwater chemistry is potentially a more refined and powerful tool because groundwater sample locations can be selected to target a specific hillslope zone, whereas surface water integrates the geochemical signature of the entire watershed area above the sample site. In this study, we propose an approach that utilizes shallow groundwater samples collected from near-stream, hand-installed sampling points. We tested this approach in Handcart Gulch, an unmined catchment in the Montezuma Mining District, Colorado, USA, where previous studies suggested the possible presence of a concealed mineral occurrence. Seventeen near-stream mini-boreholes were drilled in a stream-parallel 3.3-km-long transect to depths of ~2 m in ferricrete (iron-oxide cemented colluvium and alluvium) using a handheld rock-coring drill. Groundwater in the mini-boreholes was sampled for major and trace element chemistry, as well as environmental tracers including stable water isotopes, dissolved noble gases, helium isotopes, and tritium, to identify possible variations in groundwater age and recharge conditions/sources. Chemistry data delineate a well-defined 900-m-wide zone of elevated SO4, Cu, and other metal concentrations on the east side of the stream. In this zone, Cu concentrations up to 2670 μg/L are 1–3 orders of magnitude greater than concentrations in upstream and downstream areas. Environmental tracer data show no corresponding anomalies in groundwater age or recharge conditions/sources within the zone, suggesting that the source of the elevated metals is a change in bedrock mineralogy as opposed to other hydrologic factors. The groundwater samples therefore successfully identify and refine the location of a potential concealed high-Cu mineral occurrence in the watershed, de-monstrating that near-stream groundwater discharge may be a valuable medium for geochemical exploration in mountainous areas.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Using stream-side groundwater discharge for geochemical exploration in mountainous terrain
Series title Journal of Geochemical Exploration
DOI 10.1016/j.gexplo.2019.106415
Volume 209
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center, Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center
Description 106415
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Montezuma Mining District
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