The structural and hydrodynamic framework for epithermal exploration

Richard W. Henley, MA Etheridge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


The evolution of economic precious metal and copper-gold deposits in high-level igneous terranes is dependent on very efficient fluid focussing. This is most readily achieved by contemporaneous deformation, igneous intrusion and hydrothermal activity. Mineralisation in these environments generally occurs in fault and fault-vein arrays developed in the cover sedimentary and volcanics sequences above older regional scale fault systems. Such reactivated fault systems are particularly prone to developing tile complex fracture arrays, extreme local dilation and dramatic increases in permeability that are necessary to efficiently focus hydrothermal fluid and produce large mineral deposits. The arc systems of tilePacific rim are typically structurally and tectonically complex. At any given period in the evolution of an arc system, it may be dominated by extensional, compressional or strike-slip deformation. Indeed, it is common for the tectonic environment to change repeatedly through the development of a single arc segment. As a result, structures formed in one tectonic environment are commonly complexly reactivated in quite different environments later in arc evolution. These complexly reactivated structures have greater potential to localise extreme fracturing, dilation and fluid flux than primary structures. Application of this knowledge to practical exploration requires an understanding of the primary geometry of the controlling fault systems, the fault movements during reactivation, intrusion and mineralisation, and the consequent location and geometry of dilational sites. Simple 2D lineament analysis and targeting on lineament intersections does not suffice. Chemical processes that results from structurally focussed fluid flow may also contribute to permeability enhancement and further enhance fluid flux. Two main types of chemical feedback are important. The first involves selective dissolution of minerals during alteration and tile consequent production of increased porosity and permeability. The second occurs where alteration changes the mechanical properties of tile rock mass, especially where it leads to a greater propensity for fracture (eg by silification). In near-surface environments (< ~1 km), geomorphic processes complement fault systems in focussing fluid flow to develop sub-horizontal bodies of mineralisation, such as the giant Ladolam gold deposit (>42 million ounces of gold). Along with classification schemes which stress crustal level, host rocks and alteration assemblages, the styles of high level 'epithermal' and reated deposits must also be considered in respect of their controlling co-active fault structures. Such structural understanding, combined with understanding of tile chemical processes involved (eg host rock reactivity), provides a major tool for exploration particularly in terrains obscured by deep weathering. Geological interpretation based on integration of field mapping with magnetic, radiometric and other remotely sensed imagery provides a powerful complementary tool to the traditional geochemical and geophysical targeting techniques. Timely and effective geological input is capable of reducing exploration risk and providing a more cost-effective basis for drilling and development. Examples of deposits associated with fault reactivation in extensional, compressional and strike-slip settings within arc systems are discussed in this context.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPACRIM congress 1995
Subtitle of host publicationexploring the rim
EditorsJeffery L Mauk, John D St George
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)1-875776-31-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1995
Externally publishedYes
Event1995 PACRIM Congress on Exploring the RIM - AUCKLAND, New Zealand
Duration: 19 Nov 199522 Nov 1995

Publication series



Conference1995 PACRIM Congress on Exploring the RIM
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand


  • gold
  • fault
  • structure
  • reactivation
  • epithermal
  • porphyry
  • feed-back
  • geology
  • hydrothermal
  • circum-Pacific
  • Lihir Island
  • bonanza
  • vein
  • exploration


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