A magmatic source of hydrothermal sulfur for the Prominent Hill deposit and associated prospects in the Olympic iron oxide copper-gold (IOCG) province of South Australia

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Abstract

The Prominent Hill deposit is a world-class iron oxide copper–gold (IOCG) deposit in South Australia, characterized by a high Cu/S ratio of the dominant Cu-(Fe) sulfides hosted by hematite breccias. It contains a total resource of 278 Mt of ore at 0.98% Cu and 0.75 g/t Au. Prominent Hill is one of several IOCG deposits and numerous prospects in the Olympic IOCG province that are temporally associated with the 1603–1575 Ma Gawler Range Volcanics, a large igneous province including co-magmatic granitoid intrusions of the Hiltaba Suite. Globally, IOCG deposits share many similar features in terms of their geological environment and mineral association. However, it is not yet clear whether sulfur and copper originate from the same source rocks and which hydrothermal redox processes created the characteristic iron oxide enrichment. Highly variable sulfur isotope compositions of sulfides and sulfates in IOCG deposits have previously been interpreted in terms of diverse sulfur sources that may include contributions from magmatic, sedimentary, seawater or evaporitic sulfur. In order to test these alternatives, we performed a detailed sulfur isotope study of Cu-(Fe) sulfides from Prominent Hill and IOCG prospects nearby. The Prominent Hill deposit shows a wide range in δ34SV-CDT between − 33.5‰ and 29.9‰ for Cu-(Fe) sulfides, and a narrower range of 4.3‰ to 15.8‰ for barite. Iron sulfides (pyrite, pyrrhotite) show a narrow range in sulfur isotope composition, whereas Cu-bearing sulfides show a much wider range, and more negative δ34SV-CDT values on average. We propose a two-stage sulfide mineralization model for the IOCG system in the Prominent Hill area, in which all hydrothermal sulfur is ultimately derived from a magmatic source that had a composition of 4.4 ± 2‰. The diversity in sulfur isotope composition can be produced by different fluid evolution pathways along reducing or oxidizing trajectories. A reduced sulfur evolution pathway is responsible for stage I mineralization, when intrusion-derived magmatic-hydrothermal fluids produced early pyrite and minor chalcopyrite at Prominent Hill, and iron ± copper sulfides in regional magnetite skarns and in some pervasively altered volcanic rocks of the Gawler Range Volcanics. Shallow-venting magmatic-hydrothermal fluids and subaerial volcanic gases that became completely oxidized by reaction with atmospheric oxygen produced sulfate and sulfuric acid with a sulfur isotope composition equal to their magmatic source. This highly oxidized ore fluid probably consisted dominantly of water from the hydrosphere, but contained magmatic solute components, notably sulfate, acidity and Cu. Sulfate reduction produced hydrothermal Cu sulfides with a wide range in sulfur isotope compositions from very negative to moderately positive values. Partial reaction of the Cu-rich stage II fluid with earlier stage I sulfides resulted in mixing of sulfur derived from sulfate reduction and from sulfides deposited during stage I. Modeling of the sulfur isotope fractionation processes in response to reducing and oxidizing pathways demonstrates that the entire spectrum of sulfur isotope data from stage I and stage II mineralization can be explained with a single, ultimately magmatic sulfur source. Such a magmatic sulfur source is also adequate to explain the complete spectrum of sulfur isotope data of other IOCG prospects and deposits in the Olympic province, including Olympic Dam. The results of our study challenge the conventional model that suggests the requirement of multiple and compositionally diverse sulfur sources in hematite-breccia hosted IOCG style mineralization.

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Schlegel, T. U., Wagner, T., Boyce, A., & Heinrich, C. A. (2017). A magmatic source of hydrothermal sulfur for the Prominent Hill deposit and associated prospects in the Olympic iron oxide copper-gold (IOCG) province of South Australia. Ore Geology Reviews, 89, 1058–1090. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oregeorev.2016.09.002

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