Source of gold in Neoarchean orogenic-type deposits in the North Atlantic Craton, Greenland: Insights for a proto-source of gold in sub-seafloor hydrothermal arsenopyrite in the Mesoarchean

Saintilan, Dr Nicholas J.1,7*, Selby, D.1,2, Hughes, J. W.1,3, Schlatter, D. M.4, Kolb, J.5, Boyce, A.6

1Department of Earth Sciences, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, United Kingdom, 2State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral Resources, School of Earth Resources, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, China. 3Bluejay Mining Plc, 2nd Floor, 7-9 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4DE, United Kingdom, 4Helvetica Exploration Services GmbH, Carl-Spitteler-Strasse 100, 8053 Zürich, Switzerland, 5Institute of Applied Geosciences, Department of Geochemistry and Economic Geology, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Adenauerring 20b, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany, 6Isotope Geoscience Unit, SUERC, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride, Glasgow G75 0QF, United Kingdom, 7Present address: Institute of Geochemistry and Petrology, Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zürich, Clausiusstraße 25, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland

Given that gold (Au) mostly remained in the incipient Earth mantle until ca. 3.9–3.8 Ga, a “proto-source” of gold may have been present in the dominantly mafic crust precursor born through first-stage melting of the early Earth mantle. In south-westernmost Greenland, a fragment of the North Atlantic Craton is characterised by greenstone belts comprising mafic volcanic and magmatic rocks, and harzburgite cumulates that were emplaced at ca. <3.19–3.01 Ga (e.g., Tartoq greenstone belt). Here, combining detailed sulphide petrography with rhenium-osmium-sulphur (Re-Os-S) isotope geochemistry of individual mineral separates of arsenopyrite from gold-sulphide mineralised shear zones, we pinpoint the precipitation of ca. 3.18–3.13 Ga (Re-Os model ages) hydrothermal arsenopyrite associated and coeval with arc-related magmatism of the Tartoq Group. We consider sub-seafloor hydrothermal alteration of the oceanic crust and magmatic activity to have supplied arsenic (As), Re, and Au, to result in the precipitation of the ca. 3.18–3.13 Ga arsenopyrite with primary invisible gold. Additionally, in major shear zones in a rigid juvenile continental crust, retrograde greenschist-facies metamorphism overprinted the ca. >3.0 Ga prograde amphibolite-facies metamorphic assemblages and caused local dissolution of arsenopyrite. During this retrograde tectono-metamorphic stage, in gold-rich shear zones, the Re-Os geochronometer in arsenopyrite was reset to a Neoarchean age while invisible gold was liberated and deposited as free gold with 2.66 Ga pyrite (Re-Os isochron ages). The initial Os isotope ratios of Neoarchean arsenopyrite (187Os/188Osi = 0.13 ± 0.02) and gold-bearing pyrite (0.12 ± 0.02) overlap with the estimated 187Os/188Os ratio of the Mesoarchean mantle (0.11 ± 0.01) and preclude contribution of radiogenic crustal Os from evolved lithologies in the accretionary arc complex, but instead, favour a local contribution in Os from basaltic rocks and serpentinised harzburgite protoliths by metamorphic fluids. Thus, the ca. 2.66 Ga lode gold mineralisation identified in the North Atlantic Craton may illustrate a gold endowment in shear zones in Earth’s stabilizing continental crust at the time of the 2.75–2.55 Ga Global Gold Event, through metamorphic upgrading of bulk gold which had originally been extracted from the Mesoarchean mantle and concentrated in hydrothermal arsenopyrite deposits in oceanic crust beneath the overall reduced Mesoarchean ocean.


Saintilan et al. (2020) Source of gold in Neoarchean orogenic-type deposits in the North Atlantic Craton, Greenland: Insights for a proto-source of gold in sub-seafloor hydrothermal arsenopyrite in the Mesoarchean. Precambrian Research 343, 105717.


Nicolas Saintilan has set up and manages a Re-Os geochronology laboratory at ETH Zürich in Switzerland. He is an Ambizione Fellow of the Swiss SNF and holds a PhD from the University of Geneva with postdocs with Rob Creaser and Dave Selby in Canada and the UK successively.

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