Actively forming Kuroko-type volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) mineralization at Iheya North, Okinawa Trough, Japan

Christopher J. Yeats, Steven P. Hollis*, Angela Halfpenny, Juan Carlos Corona, Crystal LaFlamme, Gordon Southam, Marco Fiorentini, Richard J. Herrington, John Spratt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Modern seafloor hydrothermal systems provide important insights into the formation and discovery of ancient volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) deposits. In 2010, Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 331 drilled five sites in the Iheya North hydrothermal field in the middle Okinawa Trough back-arc basin, Japan. Hydrothermal alteration and sulfide mineralization is hosted in a geologically complex, mixed sequence of coarse pumiceous volcaniclastic and fine hemipelagic sediments, overlying a dacitic to rhyolitic volcanic substrate. At site C0016, located adjacent to the foot of the actively venting North Big Chimney massive sulfide mound, massive sphalerite-(pyrite-chalcopyrite ± galena)-rich sulfides were intersected (to 30.2% Zn, 12.3% Pb, 2.68% Cu, 33.1 ppm Ag and 0.07 ppm Au) that strongly resemble the black ore of the Miocene-age Kuroko deposits of Japan. Sulfide mineralization shows clear evidence of formation through a combination of surface detrital and subsurface chemical processes, with at least some sphalerite precipitating into void space in the rock. Volcanic rocks beneath massive sulfides exhibit quartz-muscovite/illite and quartz-Mg-chlorite alteration reminiscent of VHMS proximal footwall alteration associated with Kuroko-type deposits, characterized by increasing MgO, Fe/Zn and Cu/Zn with depth. Recovered felsic footwall rocks are of FII to FIII affinity with well-developed negative Eu anomalies, consistent with VHMS-hosting felsic rocks in Phanerozoic ensialic arc/back-arc settings worldwide. Site C0013, ∼100 m east of North Big Chimney, represents a likely location of recent high temperature discharge, preserved as surficial coarse-grained sulfidic sediments (43.2% Zn, 4.4% Pb, 5.4% Cu, 42 ppm Ag and 0.02 ppm Au) containing high concentrations of As, Cd, Mo, Sb, and W. Near surface hydrothermal alteration is dominated by kaolinite and muscovite with locally abundant native sulfur, indicative of acidic hydrothermal fluids. Alteration grades to Mg-chlorite dominated assemblages at depths of >5 mbsf (metres below sea floor). Late coarse-grained anhydrite veining overprints earlier alteration and is interpreted to have precipitated from down welling seawater as hydrothermal activity waned. At site C0014, ∼350 m farther east, hydrothermal assemblages are characterized by illite/montmorillonite, with Mg-chlorite present at depths below ∼30 mbsf. Recovered lithologies from distal, recharge site C0017 are unaltered, with low MgO, Fe2O3 and base metal concentrations. Mineralization and alteration assemblages are consistent with the Iheya North system representing a modern analogue for Kuroko-type VHMS mineralization. Fluid flow is focussed laterally along pumiceous volcaniclastic strata (compartmentalized between impermeable hemipelagic sediments), and vertically along faults. The abundance of Fe-poor sphalerite and Mg-rich chlorite (clinochlore/penninite) is consistent with the lower Fe budget, temperature and higher oxidation state of felsic volcanic-hosted hydrothermal systems worldwide compared to Mid Ocean Ridge black smoker systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-41
Number of pages22
JournalOre Geology Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Black smoker
  • EBSD
  • Hydrothermal
  • IODP
  • VMS
  • Volcanogenic massive sulfide


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