Heavy Minerals in Soils from the Athabasca Basin and the Implications for Exploration Geochemistry of Uranium Deposits at Depth
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The Centennial deposit is a high grade (~8% U3O8), deeply buried (~950m), unconformity-related U deposit located in the south-central region of the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. The mineral chemistry of fine fractions (<63 μm) of soils from grids above the Centennial deposit were examined to understand possible controls on the geochemistry and radiogenic 207Pb/206Pb ratios measured in the clay-size (<2 μm) fractions used for exploration. Soil samples distal and proximal to the deposit projection to the surface and geophysically defined structures were selected. Mineral abundances were determined using the scanning electron microscope and Mineral Liberation Analysis. Zircon was the only U-rich mineral identified with modal abundances >0.02% by weight. Monazite, which can be U-rich, was identified, but not in significant abundances. The source of the zircon and other heavy minerals is interpreted to be from sub-cropping sources that are >100 km up-ice from Centennial. Trace element analysis using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry of hydroseparated zircon grains indicate that zircon abundances and zircon Pb concentrations in surficial samples have minimal effect on the radiogenic 207Pb/206Pb ratios in the clay-fraction of the samples, with the dominant source of radiogenic Pb being clay mineral surfaces that trapped Pb during secondary dispersion from the Centennial uranium deposit through faults and fractures to the surface. The REE patterns indicate HREE enrichment in the clay-fractions of samples that have higher abundances of zircon in the <20 μm fraction. Immobile elements such as HREE that are concentrated in zircon can be used as indicators of radiogenic Pb being sourced from minerals at the surface rather than being sourced from secondary dispersion from deeply buried U deposits.