River drainage reorientation during placer gold accumulation, southern New Zealand

Research paper by Dave Craw

Indexed on: 21 Mar '13Published on: 21 Mar '13Published in: Mineralium Deposita


Many alluvial placer deposits around the world occur in river systems that have been affected by tectonic events, causing drainage reorientation and severance of links between placers and their sources. This study documents tectonic rejuvenation of topography in the Otago giant placer goldfield, New Zealand, which has resulted in numerous river capture and drainage reorientation events. These events have induced changes to gold transport directions and numerous stages of separation of detrital gold from primary sources. Goldfield-wide reconstructions of drainage patterns through time are as yet only possible for Miocene–Recent, and numerous earlier drainage changes back to Cretaceous primary orogenic mineralisation are probable. Variations in basement lithologies permit auriferous gravel provenance determinations, facilitating paleodrainage pattern reconstruction and documentation of river capture events. River capture events and timing of these events for gold-bearing paleodrainages have also been documented using genetic divergences of populations of freshwater galaxiid fish that were isolated by drainage reorientation. Gold-bearing quartz pebble conglomerates had a southeastward drainage in the Miocene. This was disrupted in the Pliocene by mountain range uplift and gold placer recycling, with deposition of lithic conglomerates containing only minor gold placers. The most dramatic changes in gold transport directions occurred through the Quaternary, as antiformal ranges grew across the pre-existing drainages. Miocene and Pliocene placers were recycled with numerous local (1–10 km scale) changes in river directions and numerous capture events. Large axial rivers were segmented into a more complex drainage pattern, and on-going river capture resulted in growth of the main Clutha River catchment at the expense of neighbouring catchments. The most productive placers developed in the Clutha River in late Quaternary when increased discharge from captured mountain catchments enhanced gold transport and concentration. Similar river drainage reorientation has occurred in other placer fields around the world, but the lack of preserved evidence inhibits documentation of most such changes.