AbstractsEarth & Environmental Science

Lateritisation and secondary gold distribution with particular reference to Western Australia

by Brian Duncan Coxon

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Science, Geology
Degree: MS
Year: 1993
Keywords: Laterite  – Australia; Gold ores  – Geology  – Australia
Record ID: 1437003
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1005586


Lateritisation is associated with tropical climates and geomorphic conditions of peneplanation where hydromorphic processes of weathering predominate. Laterites are products of relative (residual) and absolute(chemical) accumulation after leaching of mobile constituents. Their major element chemistry is controlled by the aluminous character of bedrock and drainage. Bauxitisation is characterised by residual gibbsite neoformation and lateritisation, by both residual accumulation and hydromorphic precipitation of goethite controlled by the redox front at the water table. The laterite forms part of a weathering profile that is underlain by saprock, saprolite, the mottled zone and overlain by a soil horizon. The secondary gold in laterites has its source invariably with mineralised bedrock. The distribution of secondary gold is controlled by mechanical eluviation and hydromorphic processes governed by organic, thiosulphate and chloride complexing. The precipitation of secondary gold is controlled by pH conditions, stability of the complexing agent and ferrolysis. Gold-bearing laterites are Cainozoic in age and are best developed on stable Archean and Proterozoic cratons that have suffered epeirogenesis since lateritisation. Mechanical eluviation increases in influence at the expense of hydromorphic processes as a positive function of topographic slope and degradation rate. Gradients greater than 10⁰ are not conducive for lateritisation, with latosols forming instead. High vertical degradation rates may lead to the development of stone lines. In the Western Australian case, post-laterite aridification has controlled the redistribution of secondary gold at levels marked by stabilisation of the receding palaeowater table. Mineable reserves of lateritic ore are located at Boddington, Westonia and Gibson toward the south-west of the Yilgarn Block. A significant controlling variable appears to be the concentration of chloride in the regolith. Based on the Boddington model, the laterite concentrates the following elements from bedrock gold lodes: i) Mo, Sb, W, Hg, Bi and Au as mobile constituents. ii) As and Pb as immobile constituents. Geochemical sampling of ferruginous lag after bedrock and laterite has provided dispersed anomalies that are easily identifiable. "Chalcophile corridors" up to 150 km in length are defined broadly by As and Sb but contain more discrete anomalies of Bi, Mo, Ag, Sn, W, Se or Au, in the Yilgarn Block. The nature of the weathered bedrock, the tabular distribution of secondary gold ore deposition and the infrastructural environment lends the lateritic regolith to low cost, open-cut mining. The western Australian lateritic-gold model perhaps can be adapted and modified for use elsewhere in the world.