REE-Be-U-F mineralization of the Round Top laccolith, Sierra Blanca Peaks, Trans-Pecos Texas



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The Round Top laccolith is considered to be one of the youngest laccoliths in a series of five known as the Sierra Blanca peaks, located in Hudspeth county, Texas. The laccolith is anomalous within the region in that it is peraluminous and enriched in HREEs, F, and U, and is comprised of intermingled discrete packages of various rhyolite types. The laccolith rhyolite varies in color from gray, purple, red, and tan, which combine locally to form distinct geometric mottled textures. The general composition of the rhyolite is 48-52% potassium feldspar, 28-30% quartz, 8-14% plagioclase feldspar, 4-5% annite biotite, 2-3% magnetite-hematite, 1% zircon, and 1% trace phases. The morphology of the trace phases suggests quenching of a late-stage volatile-rich vapor phase at the time of the laccolith formation. The rhyolite displays a wide array of unique mineralogical characteristics indicative to rapid emplacement and metastable crystallization conditions, including three-part quartz phenocrysts, hourglass sector-zoned potassium feldspars, and late-stage anhedral zircons. Unique accessory and trace phases include cassiterite, cerianite-(Ce), changbaiite, columbite, cryolite, tantalite, thorite, yttrofluorite, yttrocerite, and two unidentified minerals named (W) and (X). Initial alteration of the laccolith by high temperature volatile-rich vapor during the late stages of crystallization caused the partial dissolution of the feldspars and quartz. Subsequent quenching of this high temperature vapor phase produced the abundant interstitial, and pore filling REE-fluorides common to the laccolith. The variation in rhyolite color and the presence of the mottled textures are a direct result of partial oxidation of the laccolith by secondary fluids. The oxidizing fluids migrated within the laccolith along an extensive fracture network, altering the adjacent wallrock by oxidizing magnetite phenocrysts to hematite. The gray, purple, and red rhyolite types reflect an increase in turbidity caused by hematitic inclusions primarily within the pore spaces of the potassium feldspar portions of the groundmass. The tan rhyolite is locally restricted to the base of the laccolith and has been subjected to an intense degree of alteration independent of the other rhyolite types, primarily indicated by the conversion of feldspars to clay. Petrographic, microbeam, and geochemical studies have determined little variation in REE concentration between the three rhyolites of similar alteration intensity, but have indicated a depletion in LREEs within the more altered tan rhyolite. The average REE+Y content for the rhyolites sampled (n=11) ranges between 249 ppm and 518 ppm. The REE+Y concentrations between rhyolite samples of the same type show some variation, possibly indicating a correlation between alteration and REE+Y abundance and/or innate heterogeneity in the vapor phase during the initial laccolith formation. The magma emplaced at Round Top underwent a prolonged evolutionary process of fractionation/differentiation as evident by the unusual mineral assemblage and geochemical enrichment associated with the laccolith (e.g. extremely negative europium anomaly, and the positive La/Yb correlation). Future exploration for Round Top style REE-deposits should center within long-lived, tectonically active and complex regions where laccoliths are likely to exist. Specifically, exploration should focus on identifying the youngest laccolith in a felsic series, as this is the most likely to contain the greatest abundance of incompatible elements within the laccolithic group. The early alteration of feldspars by the high temperature vapor phase was crucial in the development of the REE+Y enrichment at Round Top. The feldspar dissolution provided abundant open pore space that was subsequently filled by the REE-fluorides. Thus, exploration should additionally seek laccoliths that have undergone a similar early alteration process, and expand to potential laccolith groups not yet exposed by erosional processes.