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Structural Fabrics, Mineralization, and Laramide Kinematics of the Idaho Springs-Ralston Shear Zone, Colorado Mineral Belt and Central Front Range Uplift
The Idaho Springs and Central City mining districts form the central portion of a structurally controlled hydrothermal precious- and base-metal vein system in the Front Range of the northeast-trending Colorado Mineral Belt. Three new 40Ar/39Ar plateau ages on hydrothermal sericite indicate the veins formed during the Laramide orogeny between 65.4±1.5 – 6l.9±1.3 Ma. We compile structural geologic data from surface geological maps, subsurface mine maps, and theses for analysis using modern graphical methods and integration into models of formation of economic mineral deposits. Structural data sets, produced in the 1950s and 1960s by the U.S. Geological Survey, are compiled for fabric elements, including metamorphic foliations, fold axial trends, major brittle fault zones, quartz and precious- and base-metal veins and fault veins, Tertiary dikes, and joints. These fabric elements are plotted on equal-area projections and analyzed for mean fabric orientations. Strike-slip fault-vein sets are mostly parallel or sub-parallel, and not conjugate as interpreted by previous work; late-stage, normal-slip fault veins possibly show a pattern indicative of triaxial strain. Fault-slip kinematic analysis was used to model the trend of the Laramide maximum horizontal stress axis, or compression direction, and to determine compatibility of opening and shear motions within a single stress field. The combined-model maximum compression direction for all strike slip fault veins is ~068°, which is consistent with published Laramide compression directions of ~064° (mean of 23 regional models) and ~072° for the Front Range uplift.
The orientations of fabric elements were analyzed for mechanical and kinematic compatibility with opening, and thus permeability enhancement, in the modeled regional east-northeast, Laramide compression direction. The fabric orientation analysis and paleostress modeling show that structural permeability during mineralization was enhanced along pre-existing metamorphic foliations and fold axial planes. Large orientation dispersion in most fabric elements likely caused myriad potential pathways for permeability. The dominant orientations of opening and shear mode structures are consistent with a sub-parallel network of structures that formed in the Laramide east-northeast compression direction. The results presented demonstrate the importance of using mechanical and kinematic theory integrated with contemporary ideas of permeability structure to better understand the coupled nature of fluid flow, mineral deposition, stress, and strain. Further, the results demonstrate that there is significant internal strain within this basement-cored uplift that was localized by optimally oriented pre-existing structures in a regional stress field.
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