Research ArticleGEOCHEMISTRY

Coupled partitioning of Au and As into pyrite controls formation of giant Au deposits

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Science Advances  01 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaav5891
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav5891


The giant Carlin-type Au deposits (Nevada, USA) contain gold hosted in arsenic-rich iron sulfide (pyrite), but the processes controlling the sequestration of Au in these hydrothermal systems are poorly understood. Here, we present an experimental study investigating the distribution of Au and As between hydrothermal fluid and pyrite under conditions similar to those found in Carlin-type Au deposits. We find that Au from the fluid strongly partitions into a newly formed pyrite depending on the As concentration and that the coupled partitioning behavior of these two trace elements is key for Au precipitation. On the basis of our experimentally derived partition coefficients, we developed a mass balance model that shows that simple partitioning (and the underlying process of adsorption) is the major depositional process in these systems. Our findings help to explain why pyrite in Carlin-type gold deposits can scavenge Au from hydrothermal fluids so efficiently to form giant deposits.

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