Monday, September 5, 2011

Report on an Afterwork Field Trip

This will be a brief field trip report from an undisclosed place and an undisclosed time. In fact, other such field trips over the years, whether during or after work, might be worth reporting on occasionally, mostly sans photos.

It was a sunny afternoon, approaching early evening, and several colleagues and I passed by some broken and brecciated road cuts while on the way to our various evening destinations, wherever they might have been. The purpose of the rather spontaneous mini field trip was to shoot the bull about the meaning of the road cuts and see if we could figure anything out—in other words, to get our creative thoughts flowing. Lines and crude cross-sections were drawn in the dirt on the side of the road, with less crude versions drawn in some field books.

Our first stop was essentially a mess of fractured, broken, and shattered rocks showing varying degrees of iron-staining and oxidation. Some jarositic-looking, weakly clayey limestones formed a possibly arched, upper zone above more typically calcite-veined dark gray Devonian limestone cut by hematitic seams and hematitic fracture-fill fines. Discussions ensued about what iron-oxides were staining the rocks and filling in fractures. A reddish coloration—reddish brown to reddish orange brown—in a batch of rocks, sometimes present in broad areas or even over whole mountains, is supposed to be a good sign when one is looking for the upper oxidized to leached portion of a porphyry copper system — at least according to a few oldtimers who told me about such things back in the late 1970s when porphyry copper exploration had come to a standstill after what turned out to be a long-term decline in the price of copper.


An Aside: A long time ago, Bear Creek or Minefinders developed a color triangle for determining the composition of various limonites or generic to mixed iron-oxides. Powdered pure or nearly pure jarosite (a sulfate containing iron that can form as a weathering or oxidation product of pyrite) was placed in a circlular spot in the upper corner of the triangle, powdered pure goethite was placed in the lower left corner of the triangle, and powerdered pure hematite was placed in the lower right corner of the triangle. Three other circles were placed between the three corners, each composed of 50-50 mixes of the appropriate two of the three main powders, and one circle in the center contained the three end members mixed together. To summarize the triangles main colors, jarosite is pale yellow to white when powdered or scratched, goethite is the typical dark golden brown of the average "limonite," and hematite is its typical reddish brown. I've looked high and low for an online version of this field cheat sheet that consisted of stiff cardboard with clear plastic- or cellophane-covered circles of powders with appropriate labeling, but have yet to find anything resembling the original. Perhaps I'll draw up something similar to the original and go further into this little exercise in crude field determinations sometime at a later date. For now, back to the field trip.


I developed a question or two as we were standing beneath the large fractured to brecciated mass of structurally complex reddish to yellowish brown pile of carbonate rocks: (1) were we looking for copper and (2) doesn't the same guide to ore (red rocks and reddish color anomalies) also apply to finding porphyry molybdenum deposits? I also wondered (3) haven't red rocks been considered a guide to ore in at least some disseminated gold districts, for example at and around Florida Canyon? The answers: (1) maybe [seriously, what we were looking for was actually in question], and it is good to define what you are looking for without getting so stuck on what you've decided to look for that you can't see the possibility of finding something else, (2) yes, for sure, something I first learned from other not-quite old-timer types, also back in the late 1970s, and (3) well, of course, but not everywhere.

Our impromptu field trip then moved down the road to stop number two, where a breccia of unknown origin was exposed in a particularly hairy road cut on a tight curve with narrow shoulder and the occasional speeding vehicle. The breccia reminded me of the Titus Canyon megabreccia: mostly angular fragments of dark-colored carbonate rock were cemented by white, crystalline calcite. I thought it looked like a breccia of possible hydrothermal origin, one in which fragments had shattered but not moved far. It also looked a bit like a tectonic breccia, though no faulting surfaces were exposed. The expounder leading this part of our field trip said it could be a collapse breccia that formed over an oxidized massive sulfide deposit. Oxidation of sulfides produces volume loss, leaving a potential collapse waiting to happen. I'm not sure how the calcite gets into position to cement the breccia together, it somehow having to push the fragments apart to exploit the collapsed zone, but some long, thin beds of shaly limestone could be seen to be sagging downward in a couple places, testifying to possible collapse. Perhaps the breccia was really fragment supported instead of apparently matrix supported, in which case the calcite could have moved in later with groundwater or low temperature hydrothermal waters of some kind.

Resulting major questions arose from the two field trip stops and all the bull that was being shot around. One major one that was oft repeated: Should we drill here? Or there? Or over there? Everyone wanted to choose their own drill hole or two and locate them in specific favored spots. Another question: Should we sample here? The answer to that question? If you have to ask the question and don't just pile in with your bags, labels, and rock hammers, the answer is an automatic yes. Conclusion: get on with it! ASAP.

And so ended a spontaneous early evening field trip to two undisclosed field trip stops, along an undisclosed highway, at some vague undisclosed time within the last 10 to 30 years.

Torrent, José, and Barrón, Vidal, 2002, Diffuse Reflectance Spectroscopy of Iron Oxides (see page 1441 for Munsell color of some iron oxide minerals).

Somewhat Related Posts:
Some Thoughts on Weirdness, and A Picture (or Two) (or Three)
Megabreccia II: More Photos
Megabreccia III, the Continuing Saga


CamArchGrad said...

One thing that I always thought about the Titus Canyon Megabreccia, is that it could be a paleo-karst, with roof spalls suspended in calcite.

As for various FeO's, yes they are pretty good indicators all sorts of sulfide accumulations (From VMS to SedEx, via porphyry Cu (Mo,Au,Ag) etc). Where I work and nasty glaciers have toasted all that nice Tertiary supergene, and dumped till on the softer sericite-clay alteration, chlorite/hematite(calcite) is a nice indication that you should be looking a little closer at the rocks around you.

Silver Fox said...

Those nasty glaciers! I haven't worked in that part of the world too much (where glaciers have scraped everything off or buried things), but I guess in that case almost any FeOx would be a good sign. And why so many aeromag and EM surveys have been run in country like that.