High grade ores of the Onverwacht platinum pipe, Eastern Bushveld, South Africa

Thomas Oberthür, Frank Melcher, Simon Goldmann, Fabian Fröhlich

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The platiniferous dunite pipes are discordant orebodies in the Bushveld Complex. The Onverwacht pipe is a large body (.300 m in diameter) of magnesian dunite (Fo 80–83) that crosscuts a sequence of cumulates in the Lower Critical Zone of the Bushveld Complex. In a pipe-in-pipe configuration, the main dunite pipe at Onverwacht hosts a carrot-shaped inner pipe of Fe-rich dunite pegmatite (Fo 46–62) which comprises the platinum-bearing orebody. The latter was ca. 18 m in diameter and a mining depth of about 320 m was reached. In the present work, a variety of ore samples were studied by whole-rock geochemistry, including analyses of platinum group elements, ore microscopy, and electron probe microanalysis. Olivine of the ore zone displays considerable chemical variation (range 46–62 mol.% Fo) and may represent either a continuum, or different batches of magma, or vertical or horizontal zonation within the ore zone. Chromite is principally regarded to be a consanguineous component of the pipe magma that crystallized in situ and simultaneously with olivine. The Onverwacht mineralization is Pt-dominated (.95% of the platinum group elements) and the ore is virtually devoid of sulfides. Platinum-dominated platinum group minerals predominate, followed by Rh-, Pd-, and Ru-species. Pt-Fe alloys are most frequent, followed by Pt-Rh-Ru-arsenides and -sulfarsenides, platinum group element antimonides, and platinum group element sulfides. Our hypothesis on the genesis of the Onverwacht pipe and its mineralization is as follows: After near-consolidation of the layered series of the Critical Zone, the magnesian dunite pipe of Onverwacht was formed by upward penetration of magmas that replaced the existing cumulates initially by infiltration, followed by the development of a central channel where large volumes of magma flowed through. Fractional crystallization of olivine within the deeper magma chamber and/or during ascent of the melt resulted in the formation of a consanguineous, residual, more iron-rich melt. This melt also contained highly mobile, supercritical, water-bearing fluids and was continuously enriched in platinum group elements and other incompatible elements. In several closing pulses, the platinum group element-enriched residual melts crystallized and sealed the inner ore pipe. Crystallization of the melt resulted in the coeval formation of Fe-rich olivine, chromite, and platinum group minerals. The non-sulfide platinum group element mineralization was introduced in the form of nanoparticles and small droplets of platinum group minerals, which coagulated to form larger grains during evolution of the mineralizing system. The suspended platinum group minerals acted as collectors of other platinum group elements and incompatible elements during generation and ascent of the melt. With decreasing temperature, the platinum group mineral grains annealed and recrystallized, leading to the formation of composite platinum group mineral grains, complex intergrowths, or lamellar exsolution bodies. On further cooling, platinum group minerals overgrowing Pt-Fe alloys formed by reaction of leached elements and ligands like Sb, As, and S mobilized by supercritical magmatic/hydrothermal fluids. Redistribution of platinum group elements/platinum group minerals apparently only occurred on the scale of millimeters to centimeters. Finally, surface weathering led to the local formation of platinum group element oxides/hydroxides by oxidation of reactive precursor platinum group minerals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1435
Number of pages39
JournalThe Canadian Mineralogist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

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  • Bushveld
  • Onverwacht
  • South Africa
  • chromite
  • genesis
  • olivine
  • platiniferous pipes
  • platinum-group elements
  • platinum-group minerals
  • Olivine
  • Chromite
  • Platinum-group minerals
  • Platiniferous pipes
  • Genesis
  • Platinum-group elements

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