Hydrothermal Alteration of a Rhyolite Flow Breccia near San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to Refractory Kaolin

W. D. Keller and Robert F. Hanson
Department of Geology, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo., and Refractarios A. P. Green, S. A., Mexico, D. F., Mexico

Abstract: A deposit of kaolin clay, the site of the General Zaragosa Mine, located about 50 km northwest of San Luis Potosi, S. L. P., Mexico, has produced more than 250,000 tons of refractory clay by room and pillar mining methods during the last 32 years. The clay was formed by hydrothermal argillation of part of a fault block of rhyolite flow-breccia and probably welded tuff, presumably lower Tertiary in age. A silica-rich gossan now exposed at the surface caps the clay deposit.

Samples collected sequentially from the fresh rock to the most highly altered kaolin and studied by optical, X-ray, DTA, and chemical methods, show progressively: Bleaching of the breccia matrix accompanied by mobilization of much of the iron, which was concentrated locally as spots of reddish oxide in the least altered areas. Mobilization, and removal of considerable alkali and alkaline earth metals, in excess of that required to form montmorillonite; mobilization of silica, which was redeposited as fine anhedral quartz crystals disseminated within the montmorillonite and associated kaolinite-halloysite, or developed tripolitic, argillized rock peripheral to the clay ore body. Further desilication of the silica and clay yielding relatively pure, but poorly ordered, kaolinite-halloysite as the most intense end product of argillation. Much silica removed during intense argillation was reprecipitated as tripolitic clay, as minor cristobalite in microscopic globules and massive aggregates characteristic of colloform opal, and in vastly larger amounts as opal and chalcedony replacing the rock overlying the clay (forming a silica gossan). Minor amounts of alunite are present at two places in the deposit, which are interpreted tentatively as being the most probable loci of rising solutions.

Clays and Clay Minerals; August 1968 v. 16; no. 3; p. 223-229; DOI: 10.1346/CCMN.1968.0160304
© 1968, The Clay Minerals Society
Clay Minerals Society (www.clays.org)