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The behavior of nitrogen and nitrogen isotopes during metamorphism and mineralization: evidence from the Otago and Alpine Schists, New Zealand

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Metamorphism is a major mechanism for the re-distribution of fluids and mass in the Earth's crust, with these processes most prominently highlighted by the occurrence of major gold resources within these terranes. However, although orogenic gold deposits have contributed over 20% of the global gold production, their origins remain controversial. The nitrogen concentration and isotopic composition of rocks and minerals are potentially powerful tracers of crustal metamorphism and mineralization, but there have been few detailed applications of this approach to date. Although nitrogen isotopes have recently been used to elucidate the source of fluids in some Neoarchean orogenic gold deposits and Proterozoic to Paleozoic mountain belts, due to their age and geological complexity of these terranes, major uncertainties as to the behavior of nitrogen remain. The Otago and Alpine Schists in the South Island of New Zealand comprise a large, comparatively young (< 190 Ma), metasedimentary belt with multiple generations of quartz ± carbonate veins, some of which are mineralized with gold. A range of rocks, with little primary compositional variation, is exposed from unmetamorphosed protolith to high-grade amphibolites and as such they present an ideal laboratory to investigate the mobility of nitrogen and potential nitrogen isotopic fractionations during metamorphism and mineralization. Here we present nitrogen concentrations and isotopic analyses of whole rock samples and mica separates from a number of crustal transects through the Otago crust.
The range of ?15N values for mica and whole rock samples from the schists spans 0.2 to 7.0‰, and the nitrogen concentration from 23 to 3483 ppm. Sample provenance and rock type have minimal influence on the nitrogen concentration and isotopic value, which appears to have been inherited from the original sedimentary kerogen. There is no systematic variation between metamorphic temperature and ?15N or N concentration in micas, suggesting that there has been little discernible loss of 15N-depleted fluids from silicates with increasing metamorphic temperature. Comparison of fluid mobile alkali element (K, Rb and Cs), carbon and nitrogen whole rock concentrations, indicates that for the Otago and Alpine Schists, in rocks up to upper greenschist facies significant nitrogen remains hosted in phases other than micas, most likely poorly matured carbonaceous material. Samples from Macraes Flat, a major gold producer, have a similar range of ?15N values to the host terrane, but show distinctly higher nitrogen concentrations relative to unmineralized samples, due to the incorporation of nitrogen from the mineralizing hydrothermal fluid. This suggests that there is only a subtle metamorphic re-distribution of nitrogen during mineralization, albeit with minimal isotopic fractionation. In the case of nitrogen at least, the isotopic signatures of mineralized rocks support a metamorphic fluid source, and are inconsistent with mantle or meteoric fluid reservoirs. However, due to the high relative abundance of nitrogen in sedimentary rocks compared to other potential reservoirs, unless fluid fluxes are very large and well channeled, nitrogen signatures are not sensitive recorders of fluid inputs from mantle, magmatic or meteoric reservoirs. Conversely, the absence of a “sedimentary”-source nitrogen isotope signature similar to the host rock in an orogenic deposit would be a very strong indicator of an external, exotic source for the mineralizing fluids.

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Pitcairn, I.K., Teagle, D.A.H., Kerrich, R., Craw, D. and Brewer, T.S. (2005) The behavior of nitrogen and nitrogen isotopes during metamorphism and mineralization: evidence from the Otago and Alpine Schists, New Zealand Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 233, (1-2), pp. 229-246. (doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2005.01.029).

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Published date: 2005
Keywords: nitrogen, nitrogen isotopes, metamorphism, gold mineralization, Otago Schists


Local EPrints ID: 15627
ISSN: 0012-821X
PURE UUID: b69d1185-c8cd-42bb-b010-6e7a74f2642a
ORCID for D.A.H. Teagle: ORCID iD

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Date deposited: 10 May 2005
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 16:48

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Author: I.K. Pitcairn
Author: D.A.H. Teagle ORCID iD
Author: R. Kerrich
Author: D. Craw
Author: T.S. Brewer

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