Evaluation of biogeochemical prospecting methods in the search for sulfide deposits in the Appalachian piedmont, Virginia, U.S.A.

Steven W. Leavitt, H. Grant Goodell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Soil and stream sediment sampling have been the primary geochemical exploration tools in the Appalachian piedmont to date. However, the great thicknesses of soil and saprolite found in the region coupled with the dense vegetation frequently encountered favor biogeochemistry as an alternative or supplemental method since deep-rooted plants sample closer to bedrock. To evaluate this method, an orientation survey was performed in which soils and vegetation at 17 sites north of Mineral, Virginia, were sampled and analyzed for Ag, Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn. The traverse included stations over the host rocks of massive sulfide mineralization, as well as over apparent "barren" country rock. Samples were analyzed by atomic absorption spectrophotometry using standard digestion and analytical techniques. Both A- and B-horizon soil metals generally appear to be reliable indicators of mineralization, with soils developed over sulfides showing up to three-fold enrichment in metal content relative to the average soils developed on the country rock. Correlation of metal concentrations in vegetation to soil metal concentrations reveal plant concentrations expressed on a dry-weight basis correlate stronger and more frequently to soil metals than do ash-weight concentrations. Copper shows some promise in selected organs and species, Ag appears fair but data are limited to one organ of one species, and plant Pb seems totally unresponsive to soil metal concentrations perhaps because foliar absorption is an important plant uptake mechanism here. However, Zn and Cd in organs of the oak group, especially mature leaves and twigs of the current year's growth show the greatest promise as prospecting tools. They correlate well with soil metals and when compared directly to the geology they reliably reflect mineralization. Although results using White oak were slightly less profound than those obtained from the Black-Red oak group, White oak may be preferred as it is a single, more widespread, easily-identifiable species. Copper and especially Zn although essential elements to plants, do not appear to be "difficult" elements for biogeochemical prospecting in the Appalachian piedmont.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-100
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geochemical Exploration
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Economic Geology


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