Lateritization as a Major Process of Ore Deposit Formation in the Amazon Region

Exploration & Mining Geology, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997

The Amazon region is characterized by the development of deep chemical weathering represented by widespread lateritic covers and soils. Two distinct periods of laterite formation can be distinguished: mature laterites from the Eocene-Oligocene (and locally from the end of the Cretaceous), and immature laterites from the Pleistocene. The older laterites occur on plateau landscapes, and the younger ones on widespread hilly to flat lowlands. Both types show complete or truncated profiles, generally covered by deep yellow to brown topsoils. The mature laterite profiles contain high concentrations of gibbsite and/or aluminum phosphate, whereas the immature ones are poor in these minerals. The Amazon region is rich in mineral deposits related to lateritic profiles. Some mineral deposits are of primary origin but were concentrated to economic grades by lateritic processes. The most important ore deposits are of iron, aluminum (bauxite), kaolin, manganese, gold, nickel, copper and phosphate. These are mainly related to mature profiles. The wide spectrum of ore deposits and mineralogical and geochemical complexity of the Amazon laterites has been promoted by: (1) the prevalence of ideal conditions for laterite formation throughout much of the Tertiary; (2) the presence of varied basement lithologies due to contrasting geological environments; and (3) a variety of epigenetic alteration types. The lateritic profiles show a well-developed ore zonation which is related to specific lateritic horizons. Iron and gold deposits occur in the ferruginous horizon, which is nearest the surface; the central aluminous horizon hosts bauxites, aluminum phosphate, strontium and gold; and the lower clayey horizon contains deposits of manganese, nickel, copper and kaolin. Resistate phases which residually accumulate throughout entire profiles include titanium (as ilmenite and anatase), chromium (as chromite), tin (as cassiterite), yttrium (as xenotime), and niobium (mainly as ilmenorutile). Epigenetic alteration, caused by swamp environments developed above truncated lateritic profiles, has led to the formation of high grade kaolin and refractory bauxites. The laterites in the Amazon region contain most of all known kinds of ore mineralization related to laterite processes.
Keywords: Amazon Region, Laterite formation, Mineral deposits.