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Low-temperature hydrothermal alteration of trachybasalt at Conical Seamount, Papua New Guinea: formation of smectite and metastable precursor phases

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The conversion of volcanic glass to secondary alteration products is one of the most common mineralogical transformations during low-temperature hydrothermal alteration of submarine basalts. To better understand the mechanism and kinetics of this transformation, porphyritic and formerly glassy trachybasalt, recovered from Conical Seamount, Papua New Guinea, was studied in detail. Low-temperature interaction of trachybasalt with hydrothermal fluids at this submerged volcano occurred in response to the formation of submarine epithermal-style gold mineralization. Alteration of the coherent volcanic rocks is heterogeneous with pronounced differences in alteration intensity occurring between igneous minerals and the surrounding glassy groundmass. In comparison to the volcanic glass, the crystalline phases were less prone to hydrothermal alteration with the alteration susceptibility decreasing from clinopyroxene through biotite to feldspar. Low-temperature alteration of clinopyroxene resulted in the formation of abundant saponite-like smectite with no topotactic relationship being observed between the two phases. In contrast, the conversion of biotite to smectite involved structural inheritance as the orientation of common structural blocks was maintained during alteration. Transmission and analytical electron microscopy revealed that pervasive alteration of interstitial glass in the groundmass of the trachybasalt resulted in the formation of montmorillonite- and saponite-like smectite whereby smectite composition is strongly influenced by the glass chemistry. The occurrence of poorly crystalline domains with a 0.3 to 0.4 nm layer spacing in the altered interstitial glass suggests that the transformation of glass to smectite involved the formation of a transitional alteration product. Comparison with the results of previous studies highlights the fact that the glass-to-smectite transformation can proceed through more than one reaction pathway. Reaction style and reaction progress are controlled by kinetic factors such as the mode of fluid transport triggering alteration in the low-temperature hydrothermal environment. Alteration of the trachybasalt at Conical Seamount is inferred to have taken place at a comparably low fluid-rock ratio as the low permeability and the absence of primary fractures and joints restricted fluid circulation through the coherent volcanic rocks.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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