Sphalerite

sphalerite

galena

zinc

wurtzite

Images

Formula: ZnS
Sulphide, isometric paramorph of trigonal or hexagonal wurtzite. Wurtzite is the high temperature paramorph of sphalerite; the transition for pure ZnS occurs at 1020oC, and this transition temperature is lowered by the presence of iron in solid solution ( AM 46.1382).

Varieties

Cleiophane is a light-coloured to colourless variety of sphalerite with low Fe and Mn content

Specific gravity: 3.9 to 4.2
Hardness: 3½ to 4
Streak: White, yellow to brown if iron is present
Colour: Yellow, brown, red, green, black, rarely colourless
Solubility: Moderately soluble in hydrochloric acid; slightly soluble in nitric acid; insooluble in water
Common impurities: Mn,Cd,Hg,In,Tl,Ga,Ge,Sb,Sn,Pb,Ag
Environments:

Igneous environments
Pegmatites
Carbonatites
Sedimentary environments
Metamorphic environments
Hydrothermal environments

Sphalerite is extremely common. Its occurrence and mode of origin are similar to those of galena, with which it is commonly found. Sphalerite occurs in granite, gabbro, sedimentary deposits and contact metamorphic deposits. It is found as a primary mineral in hypothermal (high temperature) hydrothermal veins associated with arsenopyrite, galena and quartz, and in replacement deposits associated with chalcopyrite, galena and pyrite.
Sphalerite with only minor galena occurs associated with pyrrhotite, pyrite and magnetite.
It also may be found in gabbro and granite.
In the oxidised zone of epithermal veins, sphalerite (primary) alters to secondary hemimorphite, smithsonite and manganese-bearing willemite.

Localities

The Two Mile and Three Mile deposits, Paddy's River, Paddys River District, Australian Capital Territory, Australia, are skarn deposits at the contact between granodiorite and volcanic rocks. Sphalerite is a primary sulphide that occurs as aggregates in chloritic rocks at the Two Mile deposit. Associated minerals include chalcopyrite and galena (AJM 22.1.37-38).

At the Mount Kelly deposit, Gunpowder District, Queensland, Australia, the deposit has been mined for oxide and supergene copper ores, predominantly malachite, azurite and chrysocolla. The ores overlie primary zone mineralisation consisting of quartz-dolomite-sulphide veins hosted in dolomite-bearing siltstone and graphitic schist.
Sphalerite occurs rarely rimming pyrite and chalcopyrite and as inclusions in pyrite. Paragenesis for the primary zone is dolomite followed by pyrite, then chalcopyrite and sphalerite, and lastly bornite (AJM 22.1.20 & 25).

At the Mount Deverell variscite deposit, Milgun Station, Western Australia, rare grains of sphalerite have been found as inclusions in grains of quartz in siltstone enclosing variscite veins. The variscite deposits are hosted by marine sedimentary rocks (AJM 20.2.29).

At the Blue Points mine, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, sphalerite is associated with calcite and minor chalcopyrite in silicified mudstone breccia (R&M 94.4.330).

At Berg Aukas, Grootfontein, Otjozondjupa Region, Namibia, sphalerite is partially oxidised from near-surface to depths of around 600 m. It contains trace amounts of iron, cadmium, manganese and germanium (R&M 96.2.136-140) The paragenetic sequence for the sulphides is proposed to be pyrite (oldest) - bornite - chalcopyrite - tennantite-sphalerite-galena-enargite-germanite-renierite-tetrahedrite - jordanite (youngest) (R&M 96.2.113)

At the Free State Geduld Mine, Welkom, Lejweleputswa District, Free State, South Africa, the largest sphalerite crystals from southern Africa, measuring up to 6.2 cm, have been collected from a fault zone. Associated minerals include pyrrhotite, pyrite, quartz and galena (R&M 96.4.343).

At the Randfontein Estates Mine, West Rand District, Gauteng, South Africa, a specimen of yellow baryte overgrown on tetrahedral, striated sphalerite has been found (R&M 96.4.343).

At the Mponeng Mine, West Wits, Far West Rand, West Rand District Municipality, Gauteng, South Africa, finely crystallised sphalerite has been found forming rims on the edges of pyrrhotite or partially coating galena, also some large individual stepped tetrahedral crystals of sphalerite to 3 cm have been found. Cleavage fragments yield a ruby-red translucency (R&M 96.4.343).

At Aggeneys, Namakwa, Northern Cape, South Africa, siderite pseudomorphs after sphalerite have been found (KL p160).

At Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England, UK, copper mineralised solutions percolated through porous sandstone and deposited barium, cobalt, copper, lead, vanadium and zinc minerals between the sand grains. Anhydrite formed as cement in permeable rocks, then baryte was deposited, followed by pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite and galena (RES pps 49-50).

At the Boltsburn Mine, Rookhope, Weardale, County Durham, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with fluorite (SY p172)

At Alston Moor, Eden, Cumbria, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with ankerite and fluorite (SY p172)

At the Gregory mine, Ashover, Derbyshire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with fluorite (RES p102, 103).

At the Odin mine, Castleton, Derbyshire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with fluorite and baryte (RES p130).

At Millclose mine, Darley Dale, Derbyshire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with pyrite, fluorite and calcite (RES p93, 95).

At Eyam, Derbyshire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with calcite, fluorite and galena (RES p117).

At Ladywash mine, Eyam, Derbyshire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with fluorite and pyrite (RES p120).

At Cloud Hill quarry, Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with calcite, baryte and chalcopyrite in dolomitised limestone (RES p207).

At Lord Ferrer's mine, Staunton Harold, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with galena, chalcopyrite, calcite, baryte and dolomite (RES p222).

At Barrasford Quarry, Chollerton, Northumberland, England, UK, veins of calcite up to 10 mm wide contain abundant masses of sphalerite up to 20 mm across, accompanied by patches of galena and, more rarely, with chalcopyrite and pyrrhotite (JRS 21.14).

At the Callow Hill quarry, Pontesbury, Shropshire, England, UK, sphalerite has been found in quartz veinstone associated with galena (RES p291).

At Judkins quarry, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, UK, sphalerite is associated with baryte and calcite (RES p325).

At the Magma mine, Pioneer District, Pinal county, Arizona, USA, sphalerite has been found, usually on chalcopyrite but sometimes on quartz crystals, and associated with baryte and gypsum (R&M 95.1.87-88).

At the Philadelphia mine, Arkansas, USA, smithsonite pseudomorphs after sphalerite have been found with dolomite (KL p170).

At the Emmons pegmatite, Greenwood, Oxford county, Maine, USA, sphalerite crystals have been found in massive rhodochrosite associated with perloffite. The Emmons pegmatite is an example of a highly evolved boron-lithium-cesium-tantalum enriched pegmatite (R&M 94.6.515).

At Jopline, Missouri, USA, tetragonal crystals of chalcopyrite have been found epitaxial on sphalerite (FM 47452).

At the PC Mine, Cataract Mining District, Jefferson county, Montana, USA, sphalerite occurred as gemmy green or brown crystals to 23 cm, with the largest crystal weighing 3.2 kilograms (R&M 96.6.494-496).

At Cookes Peak mining district, Luna county, New Mexico, USA, sphalerite was the principal source for zinc in secondary smithsonite. Unoxidised masses occur most often with pyrite and galena in replacement pods in dolomite (R&M 94.3.236).

At the Big Chief Mine, Glendale, Keystone Mining District, Pennington county, South Dakota, USA, sphalerite occurs with arsenopyrite and quartz (R&M 49.7-8.435-438).

Alteration

Sphalerite is a paramorph of wurtzite. The transition from sphalerite to wurtzite occurs around 1020oC.

Oxidation of pyrite forms ferrous (divalent) sulphate and sulphuric acid:
pyrite + oxygen + H2O → ferric sulphate + sulphuric acid
FeS2 + 7O + H2O → FeSO4 + H2SO4

The ferrous (divalent) sulphate readily oxidizes to ferric (trivalent) sulphate and ferric hydroxide:
ferrous sulphate + oxygen + H2O → ferric sulphate + ferric hydroxide
6FeSO4 + 3O + 3H2O → 2Fe2(SO4)3 + 2Fe(OH)3
Ferric sulfate is a strong oxidizing agent; it attacks sphalerite as below:

sphalerite, ferric sulphate and water to zinc sulphate, ferrous sulphate and sulphuric acid
ZnS + 4Fe2(SO4)3 + 4H2O → ZnSO4 + 8FeSO4 + 4H2SO4
(AMU/b3-3-7.htm)

skinnerite and sphalerite = Zn-tetrahedrite and chalcocite
4Cu3SbS3 + 2ZnS → Cu10Zn2Sb4S13 + Cu2S
(CM 28.725-738)

sphalerite to covellite: Because covellite is less soluble than sphalerite, supergene covellite may form below the zone of oxidation when dissolved copper ions Cu2+ replace zinc ions Zn2+ from sphalerite.
Cu2+ + sphaleritecovellite + Zn2+
Cu2+ + ZnS → CuS + Zn2+
(KB p527)

Zn-tetrahedrite to chalcocite, antimony, sphalerite and sulphur
Cu10Zn2Sb4S13 → 5Cu2S + 4Sb + 2ZnS + 3S2
(CM 28.725-738)

Zn-tetrahedrite to skinnerite, antimony, sphalerite and sulphur
3Cu10Zn2Sb4S13 → 10Cu3SbS3 + 2Sb + 6ZnS + 3/2S2
(CM 28.725-738)

Zn-tetrahedrite to skinnerite, stibnite and sphalerite
3Cu10Zn2Sb4S13 → 10Cu3SbS3 + Sb2S3 +6ZnS
(CM 28.725-738)

Back to Minerals