Lead isotopes in iron and manganese oxide coatings and their use as an exploration guide for concealed mineralization

B. L. Gulson*, S. E. Church, K. J. Mizon, A. L. Meier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Lead isotopes from Fe and Mn oxides that coat stream pebbles from around the Mount Emmons porphyry molybdenum deposit in Colorado were studied to assess the feasibility of using Pb isotopes to detect concealed mineral deposits. The Fe/Mn oxide coatings were analyzed to determine their elemental concentrations using ICP-AES. The Pb isotope compositions of solutions from a selected suite of samples were measured, using both thermal ionization and ICP mass spectrometry, to compare results determined by the two analytical methods. Heavy mineral concentrates from the same sites were also analyzed to compare the Pb isotope compositions of the Fe/Mn coatings with those found in panned concentrates. The Fe/Mn and 206Pb/204Pb ratios of the oxide coatings are related to the lithology of the host rocks; Fe/Mn oxide coatings on pebbles of black shale have higher Fe/Mn values than do the coatings on either sandstone or igneous rocks. The shale host rocks have a more radiogenic signature (e.g. higher 206Pb/ 204Pb) than the sandstone or igneous host rocks. The Pb isotope data from sandstone and igneous hosts can detect concealed mineralized rock on both a regional and local scale, even though there are contributions from: (1) metals from the main-stage molybdenite ore deposit; (2) metals from the phyllic alteration zone which has a more radiogenic Pb isotope signature reflecting hydrothermal leaching of Pb from the Mancos Shale; (3) Pb-rich base metal veins with a highly variable Pb isotope signature; and (4) sedimentary country rocks which have a more radiogenic Pb isotope signature. An investigation of within-stream variation shows that the Pb isotope signature of the molybdenite ore zone is retained in the Fe/Mn oxide coatings and is not camouflaged by contributions from Pb-rich base-metal veins that crop out upstream. In another traverse, the Pb isotope data from Fe/Mn oxide coatings reflect a complex mixing of Pb from the molybdenite ore zone and its hornfels margin, Pb-rich base-metal veins, and sedimentary country rocks. Stream-sediment anomalies detected using oxalic acid leaches can be evaluated using Pb isotope analysesof selected geochemical anomalies. Such an evaluation procedure, given regional target Pb isotope signatures for concealed mineralization, can greatly reduce the cost of exploration for undiscovered ore deposits concealed beneath barren overburden. Lead isotope measurements on aliquots of the same solutions showed that ICP-MS determinations are of low precision and vary non-systematically when compared with the Pb isotope values of the higher precision thermal ionization method. These variations and lower precision of the ICP-MS measurements are attributed to matrix effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)495-511
Number of pages17
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes


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