Using hyperspectral imagery for identification of pyrophyllite-muscovite intergrowths and alunite in the shallow epithermal environment of the Yerington porphyry copper district

B. Portela*, Michael D. Sepp, F.J.A. van Ruitenbeek, C. Hecker, John H. Dilles

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Hydrothermal mineral deposits are the primary source of many mineral commodities of global importance. Since hydrothermal alteration minerals associated with the formation of these mineral deposits are active in the visible and infrared range, the analysis of spectral absorption features can be used to identify the mineralogy associated with different alteration events. Some hydrothermal events are responsible for the occurrence of mineral commodities, while other events create hydrothermal alteration unrelated to the introduction of base and precious metals. Therefore, it is crucial to develop a mineral exploration strategy to rapidly identify and map the indicator minerals linked to a mineralising event. The separation of minerals of different alteration events which are spectrally active in the same overlapping range of the spectrum, is the challenge addressed in this study. High spatial resolution airborne and laboratory-based hyperspectral images are combined to detect and visualise textures of muscovite replacing pyrophyllite in the shortwave infrared (SWIR) imaging spectroscopy survey over the Buckskin Range, the volcanic-hosted lithocap part of the Yerington porphyry district, Nevada (USA).

Spectral wavelength maps in different SWIR ranges are used to map the hydrothermal alteration mineralogy at both laboratory (26 µm) and airborne (1 m) scales. The airborne spectral data define outward zoning from alunite ± pyrophyllite to muscovite characterized by variable wavelength positions of its Al-OH absorption feature. The wavelength range of 1650–1850 nm is used to differentiate zones of pyrophyllite predominance over alunite within the inner domain. The laboratory data improves the characterisation of the hydrothermal alteration mineralogy, which includes alunite, pyrophyllite, muscovite, dickite, chlorite, topaz and zunyite. The textural relationship of muscovite replacing pyrophyllite is addressed through the development of a novel spectral index, the pyrophyllite-muscovite index (PMI). The characterisation of the intergrowths of pyrophyllite and muscovite at the laboratory scale is based on two aspects: (1) the definition of pervasive versus veinlet-controlled textures and (2) a subtle shift detection in the wavelength position of the Al-OH absorption feature of muscovite from 2189 to 2195 nm. The combination of the spatial patterns with the textural relationship of the pyrophyllite-muscovite association allows the identification of areas which contain the muscovite replacement of pyrophyllite. The recognition of a late muscovite replacement of pyrophyllite suggests that advanced argillic alteration reflecting intense acid leaching is followed by late near-neutral pH magmatic-hydrothermal fluids, adding K+ and potentially other alkali elements and metals in the epithermal environment. As a result of this study, we document the hydrothermal muscovite-pyrophyllite intergrowth relationships in the study area, thus contributing to an improved understanding of the lithocap epithermal system and a better assessment of its exploration potential for Au, Ag and Cu mineralisation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104012
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalOre geology reviews
Early online date23 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


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