The speciation of mercury in hydrothermal systems, with applications to ore deposition

Johan C. Varekamp, P R Buseck

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90 Scopus citations


Hg in hydrothermal systems is generally thought to be transported as Hg-S complexes. However, the abundance of Hg0vap, in geothermal emissions suggests that Hg0eq, is present in the liquid phase of geothermal systems. Calculations for reducing fluids (HS- dominant over SO=4) in equilibrium with cinnabar indicate that Hg0eq, can be quite abundant relative to other species at temperatures above 200°C. Increasing pH and temperature, and decreasing total S, ionic strength, and pO2 all promote the abundance of Hg0eq. When a vapor phase develops from a geothermal liquid, Hg partitions strongly into the vapor as Hg0vap. Vapor transport at shallow level then results in the formation of Hg halos around shallow aquifers as well as in a flux of Hg to the atmosphere. Hg deposition may occur in response to mixing with oxidizing or acidic water, turning Hg0eq, into Hg++, with subsequent cinnabar precipitation. When pyrite is the stable Fe-sulfide, cinnabar solubility is at its lowest, so cinnabar + pyrite assemblages are common. Cinnabar + hematite ± pyrite can precipitate from more oxidized or S-poor water. Hg0liq, can occur as a primary mineral, in coexistence with all common Fe-sulfides and oxides. Cinnabar ± Hg0liq cannot coexist with pyrrhotite or magnetite at temperatures between 100° and 250°C. Evidence from Hg deposits indicates that many formed from dilute hydrothermal fluids in which Hg probably occurred as Hg0eq. In S-rich systems, Hg may occur as Hg-S complexes, and in saline waters it can occur as Hg-Cl complexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-185
Number of pages9
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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