Concentration of Particulate Platinum-Group Minerals during Magma Emplacement; a Case Study from the Merensky Reef, Bushveld Complex

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The petrology, mineralogy and geochemistry of a section of the Merensky Reef at Bafokeng Rasimone Platinum Mine (BRPM) are described. A model for the formation of platinum-group minerals (PGM), sulphide and chromitite is proposed that explains the stratigraphic relationships observed in the Merensky Reef, both at BRPM and at other locations in the Bushveld Complex. To achieve this it is necessary to understand platinum-group element (PGE) behaviour in naturally occurring mafic systems and for this reason comparisons are drawn from core TN207 through the Platreef at Tweefontein. The common link between the Platreef and Merensky Reef is the presence of unusually high concentrations of As, Sb, Bi and Te that promote the crystallisation of semi-metal bearing PGM from sulphide liquids. Under conditions of increasing semi-metal contamination, Pt is the first PGE to be extracted from a sulphide liquid followed by Rh, Ru, Os and Ir. While some Pd is released to form Pd-PGM much of it remains within the Ni-rich sulphide phase that crystallizes to form pentlandite. A critical aspect is the timing of their introduction into the magmatic system. For the Merensky magmas, contamination occurred predominantly within a staging chamber owing to wall-rock interaction with Transvaal sediments. This led to the formation of sulphide liquids that captured PGE and, ultimately, the crystallization of Pt- and Ru-PGM. The extreme enrichment in PGE and the high Pt/Pd ratios in the Merensky chromitites are attributed to density-driven concentration of PGM transported by magmas displaced from a staging chamber. Emplacement of these magmas into the Bushveld Complex resulted in thermo-mechanical erosion of the floor and deposition of chromites + sulphides + PGM. In places, these assemblages collected in sedimentary-like scour channels. In the Platreef, contamination occurred largely after magma emplacement owing to interaction with the local Transvaal sediments. As a result, mechanical separation of PGM did not occur and most PGM remain spatially associated with their original sulphide hosts.The Merensky Reef is a prime example of highly efficient PGE concentration resulting from mechanical processes, whereas the Platreef is a prime example of highly efficient PGE removal from sulphide liquids in response to extreme contamination by semi-metals.

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