The Buckeye manganese deposit, 93 km southeast of San Francisco in the California Coast Ranges, preserves a geologic history that provides clues to the origin of numerous lenses of manganese carbonate, oxides, and silicates that occur with interbedded radiolarian chert and metashale of the Franciscan Complex. Compositionally and mineralogically laminated Mn-rich protoliths were deformed and dismembered, in a manner that mimics in smaller scale the deformation of the host complex, and then were incipiently metamorphosed at blueschistfacies conditions. Eight phases occur as almost monomineralic protoliths and mixtures: rhodochrosite, caryopilite, chlorite, gageite, taneyamalite, braunite, hausmannite, and laminated chert (quartz). Braunite, gageite, and some chlorite and caryopilite layers were deposited as gel-like materials; rhodochrosite, most caryopilite, and at least some hausmannite layers as lutites; and the chert as turbidites of radiolarian sand. Some gel-like materials are now preserved as transparent, sensibly isotropic relics of materials that fractured or shattered when deformed, creating curved surfaces. In contrast, the micrites flowed between the fragments of gel-like materials.
The orebody and most of its constituent minerals have unusually Mn-rich compositions that are described by the system MnO-SiO2-O2-CO2-H2O. High values of Mn/Fe and U/Th, and low concentrations of Co, Cu, and Ni, distinguish the Buckeye deposit from many high-temperature hydrothermal deposits and hydrogenous or diagenetic manganese and ferromanganese nodules and pavements. This chemical signature suggests that ore deposition was related to fluids from the sediment column and seawater. Tungsten is associated exclusively with gageite, in concentrations as high as 80 parts per million. The source of the manganese is unknown; because basalts do not occur near the deposit, it was probably manganese leached from the sediment column by reducing solutions. Low concentrations of calcium (CaO approximately 0.6 weight percent) suggest that the host sediments formed beneath the carbonate-compensation depth.
The most probable cause of the microbanding is changing proportions of chemical fluxes supplied to the sediment-seawater interface. The principal fluxes were biogenic silica from the water column, carbon dioxide from organic matter in the sediment column, O2 and other seawater constituents, and Mn +2-bearing fluid. The presence of Al2O3 and TiO2 (supplied by a detrital flux) in the metashale but not the ore lens suggests rapid ore deposition. Material supply-rate changes were probably due to a complex combination of episodic variations in the hydrothermal flux and periodic flows of radiolarian sand (silica and CO2 fluxes) that may be related to climate variations.
The processes that form recent marine hydrothermal mounds may be the same as processes that formed the Buckeye deposit. Features common to both include the presence of Mn-oxyhydroxide crusts (corresponding to the Buckeye orebody), a large Mn/Fe ratio, low abundances of most minor elements, and small size. The most important differences are the absence of rhodochrosite and manganese silicates, interlayered with oxide, and the absence of adjacent chert in the contemporary deposits. These differences may be due to an absence of the debris of siliceous pelagic organisms, which accumulated in the Buckeye paleoenvironment. Periodic turbidity flows of chert-forming radiolarian sand could provide the changes in the fluxes of silica and organic matter necessary to form manganese carbonate and silicates. Turbidity flows of graywacke indicate proximity to an environment with high relief. A possible paleodepositional environment is an oceanic spreading center approaching a continental margin at which subduction occurred.