Applying the box plot to the recognition of footwall alteration zones related to VMS deposits in a high-grade metamorphic terrain, South Africa, a lithogeochemical exploration application

H. F.J. Theart, R. Ghavami-Riabi, H. Mouri, P. Gräser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Alteration zones (more commonly foot wall alteration zones) are related to volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VMS) deposits and represent unique features that may be targeted during exploration. Of these, the chloritic foot wall alteration pipe is the most extensive and characteristic of VMS deposits. This feature is geochemically identified by a strong relative enrichment in aluminium and magnesium and a coupled depletion in calcium and sodium, giving rise to chloritic rocks in the primary environment of formation. During high grade regional metamorphism such chloritic precursor rock types are replaced by an unusual mineral paragenesis, typically containing magnesium rich cordierite, phlogopite, orthoamphiboles or orthopyroxenes and aluminium rich minerals such as sillimanite and corundum. This suggests that the unusual geochemical features of the alteration zone, retained during the deformation and metamorphism, should be recognisable in lithogeochemical exploration. The massive sulfide deposit in the eastern part of the metamorphic Namaqua Province, South Africa, at Areachap, Kantienpan and the defunct Prieska Cu-Zn Mine are hosted by a Mid-Proterozoic volcano sedimentary succession known as the Areachap Group. These deposits were affected by a complex deformation and metamorphic history and represent examples of upper amphibolite to granulite grade metamorphosed VMS deposits. The application of the known lithogeochemical methods is especially complicated where the geology is not well understood, due to the poor rock exposure of complexly deformed and metamorphosed areas, such as in the eastern part of the Namaqua Province. The box plot presents a more readily applicable lithogeochemical method to characterize and identify the alteration process, but it was designed for relatively un-metamorphosed environments. It is demonstrated here that the box plot may also be applied to high-grade metamorphic terrains and that the mineral phases used in defining the boxplot in low grade metamorphic environments may be replaced by their equivalents in high grade metamorphic terrains. The compositional trends of the metamorphic minerals themselves may be used in defining the boxplot for high grade metamorphic terrains. These include the transition of: annite to phlogopite; grossular to almandine or pyrope, augite to enstatite or clinoenstatite, and hornblende to gedrite or cummingtonite. Close to the ore zone, the relative Mg content of pyroxene, cordierite and biotite are higher than further away from this zone. It could be demonstrated that the changes in the mineral compositions are gradational when comparing unaffected rocks with progressively more altered wall rocks. Conclusions based on an application of the isocon method demonstrate that primary footwall alteration zones in the Areachap Group's VMS deposits are characterized by elemental depletion of Na2O, CaO, Sr, Ni, V and La and enrichment of MgO, Fe2O3(total), S, Zn, SiO2, Co and F. It is shown that the whole rock compositions of rocks that were independently identified as the metamorphic equivalents of altered rocks, using the isocon method, plot in the correct place in the box plot for high grade regionally metamorphosed terrains. This establishes the box plot as an effective and practical tool for lithogeochemical exploration for VMS deposits in complexly deformed high grade metamorphosed terrains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • Box plot
  • Footwall alteration zones
  • Isocon method
  • Lithogeochemical exploration
  • Metamorphic VMS deposits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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