Geochemical soil sampling for deeply-buried mineralized breccia pipes, northwestern Arizona

Applied Geochemistry
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Thousands of solution-collapse breccia pipes crop out in the canyons and on the plateaus of northwestern Arizona; some host high-grade uranium deposits. The mineralized pipes are enriched in Ag, As, Ba, Co, Cu, Mo, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, V and Zn. These breccia pipes formed as sedimentary strata collapsed into solution caverns within the underlying Mississippian Redwall Limestone. A typical pipe is approximately 100 m (300 ft) in diameter and extends upward from the Redwall Limestone as much as 1000 m (3000 ft).

Unmineralized gypsum and limestone collapses rooted in the Lower Permian Kaibab Limestone or Toroweap Formation also occur throughout this area. Hence, development of geochemical tools that can distinguish these unmineralized collapse structures, as well as unmineralized breccia pipes, from mineralized breccia pipes could significantly reduce drilling costs for these orebodies commonly buried 300–360 m (1000–1200 ft) below the plateau surface.

Design and interpretation of soil sampling surveys over breccia pipes are plagued with several complications. (1) The plateau-capping Kaibab Limestone and Moenkopi Formation are made up of diverse lithologies. Thus, because different breccia pipes are capped by different lithologies, each pipe needs to be treated as a separate geochemical survey with its own background samples. (2) Ascertaining true background is difficult because of uncertainties in locations of poorly-exposed collapse cones and ring fracture zones that surround the pipes.

Soil geochemical surveys were completed on 50 collapse structures, three of which are known mineralized breccia pipes. Each collapse structure was treated as an independent geochemical survey. Geochemical data from each collapse feature were plotted on single-element geochemical maps and processed by multivariate factor analysis. To contrast the results between geochemical surveys (collapse structures), a means of quantifying the anomalousness of elements at each site was developed. This degree of anomalousness, named the “correlation value”, was used to rank collapse features by their potential to overlie a deeply-buried mineralized breccia pipe.

Soil geochemical results from the three mineralized breccia pipes (the only three of the 50 that had previously been drilled) show that: (1) Soils above the SBF pipe contain significant enrichment of Ag, Al, As, Ba, Ga, K, La, Mo, Nd, Ni, Pb, Sc, Th, U and Zn, and depletion in Ca, Mg and Sr, in contrast to soils outside the topographic and structural rim; (2) Soils over the inner treeless zone of the Canyon pipe show Mo and Pb enrichment anf As and Ga depletion, in contrast to soils from the surrounding forest; and (3) The soil survey of the Mohawk Canyon pipe was a failure because of the rocky terrane and lack of a B soil horizon, or because the pipe plunges. At least 11 of the 47 other collapse structures studied contain anomalous soil enrichments similar to the SBF uranium ore-bearing pipe, and thus have good potential as exploration targets for uranium. One of these 11, #1102, does contain surface mineralized rock. These surveys suggest that soil geochemical sampling is a useful tool for the recognition of many collapse structures with underlying ore-bearing breccia pipes.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geochemical soil sampling for deeply-buried mineralized breccia pipes, northwestern Arizona
Series title Applied Geochemistry
DOI 10.1016/0883-2927(94)90065-5
Volume 9
Issue 4
Year Published 1994
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Description 24 p.
First page 431
Last page 454
Country United States
State Arizona
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