The nature and the origin of zinc clays are poorly understood. With the example of the Bou Arhous Zn-Pb ore deposit in the Moroccan High Atlas, this study presents new data for the mineralogical and chemical characterization of barren and zinc clays associated with non-sulfide zinc ores. In the field, white to ocher granular clays are associated with willemite (Zn2SiO4), while red clays fill karst-related cavities cutting across the non-sulfide ore bodies. Red clays (kaolinite, chlorite, illite, and smectite) present evidence of stratification that reflects internal sedimentation processes during the karst evolution. White clays contain 7-Å clay mineral/smectite irregular interstratified minerals with less than 20 % of smectite layers. Willemite is partially dissolved and is surrounded by authigenic zinc clay minerals. Together with XRD results, WDS analyses on newly formed clay aggregates suggest that this interstratified mineral is composed of fraipontite and sauconite. CEC measurements support that zinc is only located within the octahedral sheets. These new results support the following process: (i) dissolution of willemite, leading to release of Si and Zn, (ii) interaction between Zn-Si-rich solutions and residual-detrital clays, and (iii) dissolution of kaolinite and formation of interstratified zinc clay minerals that grew over detrital micas.
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