Sedimentary Nickel, Zinc, and Platinum-group-element Mineralization in Devonian Black Shales at the Nick Property, Yukon, Canada: A New Deposit Type

Exploration & Mining Geology, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1992

LARRY J. HULBERT, D. CONRAD GREGOIRE, DOGAN PAKTUNC Geological Survey of Canada, and ROBERT C. CARNE, Archer, Cathro & Associates (1981) Limited, Vancouver

A thin layer of stratiform Ni-Zn-PGE sulfide mineralization of sedimentary-diagenetic origin was deposited during the Middle to Upper Devonian in the euxinic "Nick basin". The mineralized unit (>3 cm thick), which seems to have been developed over the entire sedimentary basin of > 80 km2, consists of pyrite, vaesite (NiS^, and sphalerite. The average grade of the mineralization is about 5.3% Ni, 0.73% Zn, =770 ppb (PGE + Au), and up to 61 ppm Re. Anomalous Se, As, Mo, P, Ba and U are present. A minimum of 0.90 x 106 tonnes of Ni were deposited in the basin (based on a bed thickness of 3 cm) during the Devonian. The unique metal association, extensive lateral distribution, persistent metal grade, mineralogical makeup, and stratigraphic control demonstrate that this is a new deposit type and a new geological environment for Ni and PGE+Au. The sulfide layer occurs at the base of a Phosphatic Chert Member which is underlain by a distinctive marker unit consisting of concretionary limestone structures. The limestone spheroids may represent a vent-specific carbonate fades developed adjacent to faults that emanated nutrient-rich hydrothermal discharges just prior to the main mineralizing event. The suite of elements associated with the Nick mineralization suggests that the ore-forming metals were originally bound to organic matter derived from decaying marine organisms. Discharge of hot brines bearing organic-matter-bound metals took place along numerous conduits within basin faults that are now manifest as bitumen veins. Our syndiagenetic model proposes that these fluids were discharged laterally from the conduits into the unconsolidated bottom sediment (ooze). The introduction of this metalliferous fluid, rich in organic matter, stimulated biological activity and bacterial reduction of its contained SO4 to sulfide. Hot, dense, laterally migrating hydrothermal fluid precipitated thin sulfide-rich laminae within bottom sediment. Published thermodynamic studies suggest that the diagnostic vaesite-pyrite assemblage crystallized at approximately 138°C. The l?*S values range from -14.7 % to -10.0 %o and are up to 34 %o lighter than locally surrounding sulfides and age-equivalent mineralized strata elsewhere in the Selwyn Basin. The 513C values of calcite in the footwall of the mineralized unit (-12 %t> to -6 %o) are isotopically much lighter than regional values. The lighter isotopic character is attributed to the hydrothermal discharge of fluids enriched in organic compounds. Although geochemical profiles of the lower Earn Group sediments that host the Nick mineralization reveal that these black shales are not distinctive, the unusual Ni, Zn, PGE, U, Ba, and P elemental associations and their anomalous concentrations in stream sediments can be used to explore for this deposit type.