Australian scientists have released a study detailing how minor earthquakes can instantly create new gold veins underground.
According to the new study, published in Nature Geoscience, the process can occur within a few tenths of a second along 'fault jogs' – the cracks that connect the main fault lines in the earth's crust.
University of Queensland seismologist Dion Weatherley and Australian National University geochemist Richard Henley are behind the new research, which could be useful for prospectors and earthquake scientists alike.
According to the study mineral rich fluids in the earth's crust can undergo a 1,000-fold pressure reduction during an earthquake.
Under these conditions liquids instantly vaporise and the minerals inside the solution crystallise almost instantly.
The process is called flash vaporisation, and Weatherley said it's impact was “sufficiently large that quartz and any of its associated minerals and metals will fall out of solution”.
While a single event would only produce a tiny gold vein, Weatherley said the process occurred in even small earthquakes, meaning it could eventually account for significant gold reserves.
He also said the process could explain why rocks in gold-bearing quartz deposits are often marbled with tiny gold veins.
“You [can] have thousands to hundreds of thousands of small earthquakes per year in a single fault system,” he said
“Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, you have the potential to precipitate very large quantities of gold. Small bits add up.”
Weatherley said repeated earthquakes could build “economic-grade gold deposits” and prospectors might be able to use the knowledge to find new deposits in regions where fault jogs were common.