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Ambient seismic noise analysis of LARGE-N data for mineral exploration in the Central Erzgebirge(GE)

Ambient seismic noise tomography is a novel, low-impact method to investigate the Earth’s structure. While most passive seismic studies focus on structures at crustal scales, there are only few examples of this technique being applied in a mineral exploration context. In this study, we performed an ambient seismic experiment to ascertain the relationship between the shallow shear wave velocity and mineralized zones in the Erzgebirge in Germany, one of the most important metal provinces in Europe. Late Variscan mineralized greisen and veins occurring in the Geyer-Ehrenfriedersdorf mining district of the Central Erzgebirge were mined from medieval times until the end of the 19th century. These occurrences represent a significant resource for commodities of high economic importance, such as tin, tungsten, zinc, indium, bismuth and lithium. Based on ambient noise data from a dense "LARGE-N" network comprising 400 low-power, short-period seismic stations, we applied an innovative tomographic inversion technique based on Bayesian statistics (transdimensional, hierarchical Monte Carlo search with Markov Chains using a Metropolis/Hastings sampler) to derive a three-dimensional shear wave velocity model. An auxiliary 3D airborne time-domain electromagnetic dataset is used to provide additional insight into the subsurface architecture of the area. The velocity model shows distinct anomalies down to approximately 500 m depth that correspond to known geological features of the study area, such as (a) gneiss intercalations in the mica schist-dominated host rock, imaged by a SW-NE striking low velocity zone with a moderately steep northerly dip, and (b) a NW-trending strikeslip fault, imaged as a subvertical linear zone cross-cutting and offsetting this low velocity domain. Similar to the velocity data, the electromagnetic data exhibit north-dipping (high-conductivity) structures in the mica schists, corresponding to the strike and dip of the predominant metamorphic fabric. An unsupervised classification performed on the bivariate 3D dataset yielded nine spatially coherent classes, one of which shows a high correspondence to drilled greisen occurrences in the roof zone of a granite pluton. The relatively high mean shear velocity and resistivity values of this class could be explained by changes in density and composition during greisen formation as observed in other areas of the Erzgebirge. Our study demonstrates the great potential of the cost-efficient and low-impact ambient noise technology for mineral exploration, especially when combined with other independent geophysical datasets.


Figure 1. (A) Geologic map and (B) cross-section of the study area. Sources: Sächsisches Landesamt für Umwelt, Landwirtschaft und Geologie (Geological Survey of Saxony); Kirsch and Steffen (2017). Drill holes in the section were projected from a distance of 150 m.



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