The Tuscarora mining district contains the oldest and the only productive Eocene epithermal deposits in Nevada. The district is a particularly clear example of association of low-sulfidation deposits with igneous activity and structure, and it is unusual in that it consists of two adjoining but physically and chemically distinct types of low-sulfidation deposits. Moreover, Tuscarora deposits are of interest because they formed contemporaneously with nearby, giant Carlin-type gold deposits. The Tuscarora deposits formed within the 39.9 to 39.3 Ma Tuscarora volcanic field, along and just outside the southeastern margin of the caldera-like Mount Blitzen volcanic center. Both deposit types formed at 39.3 Ma, contemporaneous with the only major intrusive activity in the volcanic field. No deposits are known to have formed during any of the intense volcanic phases of the field. Intrusions were the apparent heat source, and structures related to the Mount Blitzen center were conduits for hydrothermal circulation. The ore-forming fluids interacted dominantly with Eocene igneous rocks.
The two deposit types occur in a northern silver-rich zone that is characterized by relatively high Ag/Au ratios (110–150), narrow alteration zones, and quartz and carbonate veins developed mostly in intrusive dacite, and in a southern gold-rich zone that is typified by relatively low Ag/Au ratios (4–14), more widespread alteration, and quartz-fissure and stockwork veins commonly developed in tuffaceous sedimentary rocks. The deposit types have similar fluid inclusion and Pb and S isotope characteristics but different geochemical signatures. Quartz veins from both zones have similar thermal and paragenetic histories and contain fluid inclusions that indicate that fluids cooled from between 260° and 230°C to less than 200°C. Fluid boiling may have contributed to precious-metal deposition. Veins in both zones have relatively high As and Sb and low Bi, Te, and W. The silver zone has high Ca, Pb, Mn, Zn, Cd, Tl, and Se. The gold zone has high Hg and Mo. A few samples from an area of overlap between the two zones share chemical characteristics of both deposit types. The deposit types could represent a single zoned or evolving system in which hydrothermal fluids rose along structures within the silver zone, preferentially deposited Ag and base metals, and then spread into the gold zone. Alternatively, the deposit types could represent two distinct but temporally indistinguishable hydrothermal cells that only narrowly overlapped spatially.
As noted in previous studies, the hydrothermal fluids that generated the Tuscarora and other epithermal deposits could have evolved from Carlin-type fluids by boiling and mixing with meteoric water. If so, the Tuscarora deposit may represent epithermal conditions above Carlin-type deposits, and Carlin-type deposits may lie beneath the district.
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