Geochemical Responses within Lateritic Profiles Over barren and Mineralised Ultramafic Rocks: Implications for Nickel Exploration in the Yilgarn Block, Western Australia

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 6
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1996
This paper reviews the geochemistry of weathered nickeliferous sulphidic and lateritic profiles, the supergene behaviour of nickel and ore-associated elements, and their implications for exploration in an attempt to distinguish between barren and mineralised nickeliferous profiles. Nickel is an abundant accessory element in ultramafic rocks with background concentrations in some units up to 0.25 weight per cent. Ore-grades in fresh rock are mostly associated with massive and disseminated sulphide zones within magnesium-rich layered ultramafic sequences. In lateritic weathered terrain, nickel is also concentrated in the regolith profile. This process not only upgrades nickel in the gossanous weathered product of sulphidic deposits, but for sub-economic sulphide zones and some ultramafic rocks, is sufficient to result in a supergene resource. Ore-grade accumulations of nickel in regolith after sulphide-poor ultramafic rocks are referred to as lateritic deposits. Nickel sulphide zones and their ferruginous weathering products are collectively referred to as sulphidic deposits and are the major source of nickel in Western Australia. Mineral exploration in the Yilgam Block is hampered by deep lateritic weathered profiles (eg Butt and Sheppy, 1975; Smith, 1977; 1982). During the nickel boom of 1967 - 1972, most discoveries resulted from the location of outcropping nickeliferous gossan and ironstone. Exposed ultramafic terrain with nickel sulphide potential were explored intensively, mostly by gossan and soil sampling. However, up to 85 per cent of the area of the Yilgarn Block is buried by transported regolith. In these covered areas, barren and mineralised rock responses at the surface are similar and soil sampling produced unreliable results due to many false anomalies. A statistical, multi-element approach to regional geochemical exploration has evolved. Potential trace element indicators investigated, include Co, Cr, Cu, Ir, Mn, Pb, Pd, Pt, Sc, Se, and Zn. In recent years, trace element ratios have also been tested with varying degrees of Success.
Full Article Download:
(356 kb)