Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
On-line version ISSN 2411-9717
CAWTHORN, R.G.. Geological interpretations from the PGE distribution in the Bushveld Merensky and UG2 chromitite reefs. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2011, vol.111, n.2, pp. 67-79. ISSN 2411-9717.
The vertical distribution of platinum-group elements (PGE) in the Merensky and UG2 chromitite Reefs is highly variable, but does follow certain general patterns that allow the testing of geological models. In the Merensky reef, historically popular geological representations and interpretations have suggested that the mineralization occurs in a pegmatitic pyroxenite bounded by two chromitite layers. However, there are now enough published exceptions to this relationship to expose its fallacy. The vertical distribution of the PGE depends largely upon the separation between these two chromitite layers or the absence of one chromitite layer. Where separation is small or only one chromitite layer is present, there is considerable PGE mineralization in the footwall below the pyroxenite and lower chromitite layer. With increasing separation between the two chromitites, the mineralization occurs progressively higher in the succession, and tends to track the upper chromitite layer. The view presented here is that the entire Merensky package is comprised of three events of magma emplacement, in which each has produced variable reaction with, and erosion of, the footwall, causing recrystallization of pyroxenite into pegmatitic pyroxenite. The magma then produced a chromitite layer followed by pyroxenite. Each chromitite layer is associated with some mineralization, which was extensively complemented by the subsequent formation of a sulphide liquid carrying PGE that trickled down through about 1 m of permeable crystal pile. The sulphide liquid formed after, not coincident with, the pyroxenite layers. The distribution of PGE in the UG2 chromitite shows up to three upward depletion sequences of PGE, also suggesting three events. The PGE are associated only with the chromite. The contribution from a sulphide liquid is considered to have been minimal for two reasons. Cu and Ni are extremely low in the UG2 which would not be expected if sulphides had been present. Also, by analogy with the Merensky, downward trickling of sulphides would have caused some PGE to be present in the footwall. There are some PGE in the footwall, but only where remnants of chromitite occur, and the hanging wall is lacking in PGE. In the northeastern Bushveld the UG2 chromitite is thinner than elsewhere, and there is a UG3 chromitite layer, not present elsewhere, that has a high Pt/Pd ratio. It is surmized that in the rest of the Bushveld the UG3 only appears to be absent because it has merged with the UG2 to produce the high Pt concentration at the top of the composite UG2. The non-accumulation of the package of pyroxenite-norite-anorthosite between the UG2 and UG3 in the northeastern Bushveld, which is not seen elsewhere, creates an interesting challenge to the formation of silicate layering in the complex. The mineralization in the Platreef is not addressed here.
Keywords : Bushveld complex; Merensky Reef; UG2 chromitite; geological evolution.