An inescapable consequence of the metamorphism of greenstone belt sequences is the release of a large volume of metamorphic fluid of low salinity with chemical characteristics controlled by the mineral assemblages involved in the devolatilization reactions. For mafic and ultramafic sequences, the composition of fluids released at upper greenschist to lower amphibolite facies conditions for the necessary relatively hot geotherm corresponds to those inferred for greenstone gold deposits (XCO2= 0.2–0.3). This result follows from the calculation of mineral equilibria in the model system CaO–MgO–FeO–Al2O3–SiO2–H2O–CO2, using a new, expanded, internally consistent dataset. Greenstone metamorphism cannot have involved much crustal over‐thickening, because very shallow levels of greenstone belts are preserved. Such orogeny can be accounted for if compressive deformation of the crust is accompanied by thinning of the mantle lithosphere. In this case, the observed metamorphism, which was contemporaneous with deformation, is of the low‐P high‐T type. For this type of metamorphism, the metamorphic peak should have occurred earlier at deeper levels in the crust; i.e. the piezothermal array should be of the ‘deeper‐earlier’type. However, at shallow crustal levels, the piezothermal array is likely to have been of ‘deeper‐later’type, as a consequence of erosion. Thus, while the lower crust reached maximum temperatures, and partially melted to produce the observed granites, mid‐crustal levels were releasing fluids prograde into shallow crustal levels that were already retrograde. We propose that these fluids are responsible for the gold mineralization. Thus, the contemporaneity of igneous activity and gold mineralization is a natural consequence of the thermal evolution, and does not mean that the mineralization has to be a consequence of igneous processes. Upward migration of metamorphic fluid, via appropriate structurally controlled pathways, will bring the fluid into contact with mineral assemblages that have equilibrated with a fluid with significantly lower XCO2. These assemblages are therefore grossly out of equilibrium with the fluid. In the case of infiltrated metabasic rocks, intense carbonation and sulphidation is predicted. If, as seems reasonable, gold is mobilized by the fluid generated by devolatilization, then the combination of processes proposed, most of which are an inevitable consequence of the metamorphism, leads to the formation of greenstone gold deposits predominantly from metamorphic fluids.
Journal of Metamorphic Geology – Wiley
Published: Mar 1, 1991
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