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Applying stable isotopes to mineral exploration: Teaching an old dog new tricks

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 23:01 authored by Shaun BarkerShaun Barker, Dipple, GM, Hickey, KA, Lepore, WA, Vaughan, JR
The stable isotope ratios of various elements (e.g., H, C, O, S) have numerous uses to improve the understanding of the genesis and formation of hydrothermal and magmatic ore deposits, as well as having various applications to mineral exploration. However, stable isotope data has not been routinely collected during mineral exploration for various reasons related to cost per sample, the speed at which analytical data can be collected, and uncertainty regarding the benefits of stable isotope measurements to mineral exploration. Recent advances in analytical technologies which utilize infrared absorption spectroscopy (e.g., off-axis integrated cavity output spectroscopy [OA-ICOS]) mean that stable isotope data can now be collected in far greater quantities than has been previously possible. This advance in analytical technology, which allows for significantly more rapid and less expensive stable isotope analyses, has significant implications for the way in which stable isotope data can be collected and utilized during mineral exploration. Potential applications of stable isotope ratios to mineral exploration include delineating property- to district-scale stable isotope alteration halos and identifying “blind deposits” at depth, as well as vectoring toward new deposits within endowed districts. Stable carbon and oxygen isotope data collected using OA-ICOS from carbonate rocks surrounding the Screamer Carlin-type gold deposit in Nevada demonstrate that stable isotope alteration can be detected at distances of up to (and potentially more than) 3 km laterally around mineralization.


Publication title

Economic Geology








School of Natural Sciences


Society of Economic Geologists

Place of publication

United States

Rights statement

© 2013 Society of Economic Geologists.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Precious (noble) metal ore exploration

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