These ore bodies range from 0.5 million tonnes of contained ore, to 20 million tonnes or more, and have a grade of between 4% combined lead and zinc to over 14% combined lead and zinc. These ore bodies tend to be compact, fairly uniform plug-like or pipe-like replacements of their host carbonate sequences and as such can be extremely profitable mines.
This classification of ore deposits is also known as Mississippi Valley Type or MVT ore deposits, after a number of such deposts along the Mississippi River in the United States, where such ores were first recognised; these include the famed Lead Belt and Viburnum trend of southeastern Missouri, and deposits in southeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin, and northwest Illinois. Similarly Irish-type carbonate lead-zinc ores, exemplified by Lisheen, Co. Tipperary, are formed in similar ways, although significantly larger in tonnage.
If the solutions are not trapped successfully within the carbonate host, it is possible for the hydrothermal fluids to leak out into the ocean basin and form SEDEX lead-zinc deposits.
Once hydrocarbons are converted to bitumen, their ability to chelate metal ions and sulfur is reduced and results in these elements being expelled into the fluid, which becomes saturated in zinc, lead, iron and sulfur. Sulfide minerals such as galena, sphalerite, marcasite and pyrite thus form.
Commonly MVT deposits form by the combination of hydrocarbon pyrolysis liberating zinc-lead ions and sulfur to form an acidic solution which dissolves the host carbonate formation and replaces it with massive sulfide accumulations. This may also take the morphology of fault-hosted stockworks, massive tabular replacements and so forth.
Porous limestones may form disseminated ores, however most MVT deposits are massive sulfides with knife-like margins between carbonate and sulfide mineralogies.
MVT and Irish type deposits are commonly associated with a 'dolomite front' alteration, which manifests as a yellow-cream wash of dolomite (calcium-magnesium carbonate) within calcite-aragonite assemblages of unaltered carbonate formations.
Most ore bodies are quite sulfidic, and most are very low-iron, with pyrite-marcasite contents typically below 30% of the mass of sulfides. This makes MVT lead-zinc deposits particularly easy to treat from a metallurgical view. Some MVT deposits can, however, be very iron-rich and some sulfide replacement and alteration zones are associated with no lead-zinc at all, resulting in massive accumulations of pyrite-marcasite, which are essentially worthless.
This concept of a cogeneration of hydrocarbons and precursor brines by the same process allows many lead-zinc explorers to use hydrocarbon basin models to predict if a carbonate sequence is likely to host MVT or Irish Type mineralization.
Thereafter, attention must be paid to picking floral facies of any reef carbonates formed from coral reef accumulations. The facies of the carbonate sequence is critical, as this is controlled mostly by faults which are the ultimate target of exploration. A fore-reef/back-reef transition is the 'sweet spot', and thus depending on the age of the carbonate sequence, familiarity with coral palaeontology is considered essential.
Finally, once a basin model of the carbonate sequence is formulated, and the primary basin-margin faults are roughly identified, a gravity survey is often carried out, which is the only geophysical technique which can directly detect MVT deposits. Gravity surveys aim to detect significant accumulations of lead and zinc due to their greater density relative to their surrounding host rocks.
Finally, the 'pointy end' of an exploation programme is to drill each and every one of the gravity targets in sequence, with no favour or prejudice given to the strength or amplitude of any anomaly. It is well known that unsubtle and unsophisticated methods of pattern drilling have found MVT deposits missed by more selective explorers, for instance the Lennard Shelf Deposits in Western Australia were found on the second last hole of an extensive drilling programme.
SULFIDE DEPOSITS USGS