Quartz-linked gold has sourced some famous deposits, such as the placer gold that sparked the 19th-century California and Klondike gold rushes. Both deposits had eroded from quartz veins upstream. Placer gold consists of particles, flakes and nuggets mixed in with sand and gravel in stream and river beds. Prospectors traced the gravels back to their sources, where hard-rock mining continues today.
But earthquakes aren't the only cataclysmic source of gold. Volcanoes and their underground plumbing are just as prolific, if not more so, at producing the precious metal. While Weatherley and Henley suggest that a similar process could take place under volcanoes, Wilkinson, who studies volcano-linked gold, said that's not the case.
"Beneath volcanoes, most of the gold is not precipitated in faults that are active during earthquakes," Wilkinson said. "It's a very different mechanism."
Understanding how gold forms helps companies prospect for new mines. "This new knowledge on gold-deposit formation mechanisms may assist future gold exploration efforts," Weatherley said.
In their quest for gold, humans have pulled more than 188,000 tons (171,000 metric tons) of the metal from the ground, exhausting easily accessed sources, according to the World Gold Council, an industry group.
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