Lithium deposits in tuffaceous sediments of the McDermitt caldera constitute possibly the world’s largest Li clay resource, yet their characteristics and origin are not established. The 40 × 25 km McDermitt caldera collapsed during the eruption of ~1000 km3
of a 16.4 Ma, zoned peralkaline to metaluminous tuff; minor caldera magmatism ceased by 16.1 Ma. About 200 m of sediments mostly composed of glass from regional pyroclastic eruptions accumulated in the caldera until about 15.7 Ma. Closed hydrologic system diagenesis (CHSD) altered the tuffaceous sediments to a consistent vertical mineral zonation of clay, analcime, K-feldspar, and albite. Entire sedimentary sections in the southern and western parts of the caldera basin have ≥1500 ppm Li. Lithium-rich intervals are dominantly claystone. The most thoroughly studied deposit is a laterally continuous, ~3000 ppm Li zone in the lower sedimentary section that also has high K, Rb, Mo, As, and Sb (and partly Mg and F). Lithium occurs as an illitic clay (tainiolite?). The overlying, upper sedimentary section averages <2000 ppm Li which resides in smectite (hectorite). A transitional zone has variably mixed smectite–illite clay and averages ~2000 ppm Li. An 40
Ar age of ~14.9 Ma on authigenic K-feldspar in the illite zone is ~1.2 Ma younger than the 16.1 Ma end of magmatism in the caldera, which mitigates against a simple hydrothermal origin. Closed hydrologic system diagenesis was essential to Li mineralization, but Li budget calculations suggest a source of Li in addition to the tuffaceous sediments is required. This additional source could be Li originally in highly enriched magma that entered the diagenetic system through either (1) Li in magma exsolved into a hydrous volatile phase during eruption. The Li-rich volatile phase coated glass shards or was trapped in pumice and was quickly leached by surface or groundwater upon deposition in the caldera. (2) Residual magma immediately following ash-flow eruption and caldera collapse generated Li-rich hydrothermal fluids that mixed with meteoric water in the closed caldera basin, generating a hybrid diagenetic fluid. The hydrothermal fluid and hybrid diagenetic fluids would have existed only during initial basin sedimentation between about 16.4 and 16.1 Ma.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited