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Li-rich Claystone in the McDermitt Caldera, Nevada: Characteristics and Possible Origin
  • Christopher Henry,
  • Stephen Castor,
  • Lisa Stillings
Christopher Henry
University of Nevada Reno

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Stephen Castor
University of Nevada Reno
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Lisa Stillings
US Geological Survey
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The Lithium Nevada Corp. Thacker Pass Project has a measured resource of 242M tonnes at 0.29% Li (~0.7M tonnes Li). The deposit is the southernmost of five known lenses hosted within intracaldera tuffaceous sediments along the west side of the McDermitt caldera, which formed by eruption of 16.4 Ma peralkaline-metaluminous tuff. Analyses of 9880 core samples (~1.5-m thick) give a mean of ~ 2500 ppm Li, with some >8800 ppm. Entire sedimentary sections in the southern and western parts of the caldera basin have high Li (1500+ ppm). Pre-caldera rocks, the McDermitt Tuff, late caldera volcanics, and unaltered tuffaceous sediments have relatively low Li (5 -140 ppm). Sediment deposition was mainly subaqueous in the closed caldera basin. Li-rich fill may have been deposited from airborne sources. Claystone comprises most of the Thacker Pass deposit and dominates Li-rich intervals. The rest is mostly feldspar-rich ash. X-ray diffraction (XRD) data from six core holes across the deposit show consistent lateral mineral zoning. A Li-rich zone (mean >4,000 ppm) mainly contains illitic clay and underlies a zone of lower Li with smectite + analcime. Based on XRD peak locations and chemistry, the closest analogs to the illitic clay are Li micas (e.g. tainiolite). Montmorillonitic clay and a basal silicified zone underlie the illitic zone. Some transitional rock of mixed-layer clay between the illite and smectite zones also has high Li. All clay has similar optical properties but SEM images show illite forms tiny hexagonal plates and smectite has no resolvable crystallinity. Calcite, albite, K-feldspar, and quartz occur in all zones, dolomite and fluorite near the top of the illite zone, and pyrite and bitumen in unoxidized rock. The Li-rich zone has relatively high K, Rb, Mo, As, and Sb. Secondary Kspar in the Li-rich zone gave an 40Ar/39Ar age of 14.87±0.05 Ma. No origin fully explains known characteristics. The presence of illite suggests a moderate temperature hydrothermal system. Release of Li from tuffaceous sediments and transport by alkaline groundwater are consistent with most mineralogy (characteristic of closed hydrologic system diagenesis) and with the Kspar date that long postdates caldera magmatism. Release of 10 ppm Li from the likely 50-200 km3 of intracaldera sediments would contribute ~1-4M tonnes Li.