October 2013 LIP of the Month

Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) and Metallogeny

Richard E. Ernst1,2, and Simon M. Jowitt3

1 Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1S 5B6
2 Ernst Geosciences, 43 Margrave Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1T 3Y2; Richard.Ernst@ErnstGeosciences.com
3 School of Geosciences, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC 3800, Australia; simon.jowitt@monash.edu

Extracted from and full details are provided in: Ernst, R.E. and Jowitt, S.M.  (2013) “Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs) and Metallogeny” SEG SP 17, p. 17-51.

Recent years have witnessed a dramatic increase in our understanding of the economic importance of large igneous provinces (LIPs) as hosts to, or being directly involved in, the genesis of mineral, hydrocarbon, and even ground-water resources (Ernst and Jowitt, 2013; Bryan and Ferrari, 2013; Ernst, 2014). These large volume, short duration intraplate magmatic events consist of volcanic rocks (mainly flood basalts) and plumbing systems that may contain mafic dyke swarms, sill complexes, and mafic-ultramafic layered intrusions (e.g., Coffin and Eldholm, 1994, 2005; Courtillot and Renne, 2003; Ernst and Buchan, 2001; Bryan and Ernst, 2008; Bryan and Ferrari, 2013; Ernst, 2014). Many LIP events are also associated with silicic magmatism (both intrusive and extrusive), carbonatites, and in some cases, kimberlites (Fig. 1). LIPs are associated with continental breakup, global extinction, major environmental change, regional uplift, and have been linked with a variety of ore deposit types (as detailed in Ernst and Jowitt, 2013). The great scale of magmatism involved in the formation of LIPs, and our increase in understanding of the processes that occur during both the formation and postmagmatic evolution of LIPs, has led to these significant geologic events becoming high priority exploration targets for a variety of different commodities (Fig. 1). LIP-related resources can be broadly split into four different categories, according to the genetic relationship between LIPs and the resources in question; more details on each of these types are provided in Ernst and Jowitt (2013).

1. LIPs can be a primary host for mineral deposits. This is exemplified by LIP-related orthomagmatic Ni-Cu-platinum group element (PGE) sulfide, Fe-Ti-V oxide, and Cr deposit formation, where mineral deposits are formed as a direct consequence of mafic-ultramafic magmatism during an LIP event (e.g., Fig. 2; Naldrett, 1997, 2010; Pirajno, 2000; Schissel and Smail, 2001; Lightfoot and Keays, 2005; Borisenko et al., 2006; Eckstrand and Hulbert, 2007). The links between LIPs and carbonatites and some kimberlites (e.g., Figs. 3, 4; Ernst and Bell, 2010; Torsvik et al., 2010; Chalapathi Rao and Lehmann, 2011) also mean that the commodities associated with these rocks, namely the rare earth elements (REEs), Nb, and Ta (carbonatites), and diamonds (kimberlites), can also be directly linked with LIP events.

2. LIPs can contribute to ore formation in hydrothermal systems  (Pirajno, 2000; Ernst and Jowitt, 2013). The links between LIPs and hydrothermal deposits can be explained by three differing models that are not necessarily mutually exclusive:

2.1 LIPs can provide a source of energy for circulating hydrothermal systems, leading to slightly post-magmatic (or coincident with LIP formation) development of hydrothermal IOCG (iron oxide – copper-gold), VMS (volcanogenic massive sulfide) deposits, and other mineralizing systems.  For example, note the range of hydrothermal ore types associated with Siberian and Tarim LIPs (Fig. 5). As another example, the potential LIP event represented by the Ring of Fire complex of northwestern Ontario, Canada is also associated with a significant number of VMS deposits (Mungall et al., 2010; Metsaranta and Houlé, 2012).

2.2) LIPs can also be a source of metals and ligands for post-magmatic circulating hydrothermal systems via hydrothermal alteration of rocks formed during LIP events— again, some IOCG, VMS, and potentially Au deposits exemplify these links. One prominent example is the Olympic Dam IOCG deposits associated with the Gawler Range LIP, southern Australia (Fig. 6; Groves et al., 2010; McPhie et al., 2011). Numerous hydrothermal vent complexes are characteristically associated with LIPs and are caused by interaction of mafic sills with volatile rich host rocks. In the case of the Siberian LIP, many vent complexes are mineralized with magnetite that is being mined (e.g., Fig. 7; Svensen et al., 2009).

2.3) LIP units can act as structural/ impermeable barriers or as reactive precipitation mechanisms during hydrothermal fluid flow, such as in Archean LIPs associated with the formation of orogenic Au deposits. This is exemplified by the ca. 2680 Ma Golden Mile dolerite at Kalgoorlie (e.g., Hergt et al., 2000; Goldfarb et al., 2005), which is potentially part of a plume-related LIP or package of LIPs within the hosting Eastern Goldfields terrane of the Yilgarn craton, Australia (Ernst and Buchan, 2001; Barnes et al., 2012; Said et al., 2012).

3. Tropical weathering of rocks formed during LIP events can form a range of differing laterites that are exploited for a range of differing commodities, including iron, aluminum, nickel, gold, phosphorus, and/or niobium, depending on the source rock (e.g., Freyssinet et al., 2005; Retallack, 2010; Ernst and Jowitt, 2013). For instance, weathering of basalts and dolerites can produce bauxites (exploited for Al; Bárdossy and Aleva, 1990; Laznicka, 2010), and weathering of ultramafic rocks can produce Ni-Co laterites (e.g., Golightly, 1981; Gaudin et al., 2005; Lewis et al., 2006). LIP-related carbonatites can also weather to yield niobium and phosphorous laterites (Freyssinet et al., 2005).

4. Indirect links between LIPs and ore deposits are also possible; here we consider two differing aspects:

4.1) The LIP record can be used as a tool for generating robust pre-Pangea reconstructions that allow the tracing of known ore deposits from one crustal block into “greenfield” areas on a formerly adjacent crustal block (Fig. 8; Bleeker and Ernst, 2006; Ernst and Bleeker, 2010). The pre-Pangea reconstruction framework is poorly constrained, but significant progress is being achieved through an industry- and NSERC-supported project that is providing precise U-Pb dating of LIP units, particularly their mafic dyke swarms, to produce a robust LIP “barcode” record for different cratonic blocks: “Reconstruction of Supercontinents Back to 2.7 Ga Using the Large Igneous Province (LIP) Record: With Implications for Mineral Deposit Targeting, Hydrocarbon Resource Exploration, and Earth System Evolution” (www.supercontinent.org; see also, January 2009 LIP of the Month, www.largeigneousprovinces.org/09jan). Comparison of LIP barcodes and identification of matches between crustal blocks can be a powerful tool for determining which blocks were nearest neighbors, and as such, predict the location of highly prospective belts within relatively unexplored greenfield areas (Bleeker and Ernst, 2006; Ernst et al. 2013); and,  

4.2) The nature of the plate tectonic cycle means that a pulse of rifting and breakup (characteristically associated with LIP emplacement) should be correlated with corresponding pulses of transpression and compression (and associated mineralization, e.g., orogenic Au) on favorably oriented plate boundaries elsewhere in the world.   This type of link is exemplified by Goldfarb et al. (2007), who noted that ca. 125 Ma orogenic gold deposits of the north China, Yangtze (South China), and Siberian craton margins, as well as in young terranes in California, may relate to emplacement of the 122 Ma Ontong Java plateau and related LIPs in the southern Pacific basin, due to the relatively rapid tectonic consequences resulting from reconfiguration of the Pacific plate along its bounding continental margins.

The links between metallic mineral deposits and LIPs outlined here are, in many ways, just the “tip of the iceberg,” and significant amounts of research are still needed to identify the causal and genetic links between LIP events and resources. The relationships that we have summarized here, and which are presented in full detail in Ernst and Jowitt (2013), provide some examples of how the huge volumes of magma formed during LIP events can transmit energy and heat and act as sources of metals and fluids for major ore- and resource-forming systems. Further identification of both proximal and distal relationships between LIP events, metallogenesis, and resource formation should lead to increased exploration success and a greater understanding of interactions within the geosphere.

Figure 1: Types of LIPs and associated ore deposits types. LIPs classification modified after Bryan and Ernst (2008) and Ernst and Bell (2010). Ore deposit types discussed in the text.

Figure 2: Locating a small Ni-Cu-PGE mineralized region (the “sweet spot”) marked by white circles in an areally extensive LIP. Four examples are shown: A. 250 Ma Siberian Trap LIP with its rich Noril’sk-Talnakh deposits. B. 1270 Ma Mackenzie event with its associated Muskox intrusion. C. 1880 Ma Circum-Superior LIP with its associated ore-rich areas of the Thompson belt and the Raglan and related deposits of the Cape Smith belt. D. 200 Ma CAMP LIP with the associated Freetown intrusion of Sierra Leone. A.S = Anabar shield, M = Maimecha-Kotui region. The red stars locate inferred mantle plumes. For the Siberian LIP the solid red star is at the convergence of N-S rifting (of the East Siberian basin) and E-W rifting (of the Khatanga trough; Schissel and Smail, 2001), and the red star with white interior marks the plume center inferred from a radiating dyke swarm (Ernst and Buchan, 1997).

Figure 3: Association of carbonatites and LIPs after Ernst and Bell (2010). A. Summary of age distribution of carbonatites with respect to main episodes of LIP events. Gray bars indicate main episodes of LIP magmatism. Age range for each carbonatite is based on given ±2σ uncertainties, or given ranges. In cases in which an uncertainty is not provided, a value of ±10 Ma is arbitrarily assigned, which is high but appropriately conservative. U-Pb, Ar-Ar, and Rb-Sr ages (for carbonatites) are considered more reliable and are presented as red rectangles. K-Ar and fission track ages are left as green rectangles, except for the less than 10 Ma ages of the Afro-Arabian LIP, which are shown as red rectangles. B. Paraná- Etendeka LIP of reconstructed South America and Africa and associated carbonatite complexes (solid red circles). Abbreviations for carbonatite names are as follows: South America: An = Anitapolis, BI = Barra do Itapirapua, CS = Cerro Sarambi, Ch = Chiriguelo, Ipan = Ipanema, Itan = Itanhaem, Itap = Itapirapua, Ju = Juquia, Ja = Jacupiranga; Africa: Ka = Kalkfeld, Kw = Kwaggaspan, M = Messum, Ok = Okorusu, On = Ondurakorume, Os = Osongombo. Red star and circle (dashed red line) locate inferred center and 1,000-km radius of underlying mantle plume ca. 133 Ma ago. C. Distribution of Bushveld and satellite units after Kinnaird (2005), and diagram provided by P. Eriksson (pers. commun. 2008). BC = Bushveld complex, MC = Moshaneng complex, MFC = Molopo Farms complex, OIC = Okwa inlier complex, PCC = Phalaborwa carbonatite complex, SCC = Shiel carbonatite complex, UC = Uitkomst complex, VD = coeval intrusions in the vicinity of the Vredefort dome. The SCC and PCC are located in the area outlined in red. Thin black lines in (B) are dykes.

Figure 4: Examples of the association of kimberlites and LIPs in southern Africa (A) and in Siberia (B). Stars locate interpreted mantle plume centers. Names and distribution of kimberlite groups in South Africa after Schissel and Smail (2001). B = Bosnof (128 Ma, Gp II); BW = Barkley West (120/140 Ma, Gp I & II); CB = Central Botswana (90 Ma, Gp I); DE = Dullstrom-Elandskloof (176 Ma, Gp II); DK = Dokolwaya (203 Ma, Gp II); EK = Eende Kuil (110 Ma, Gp II); F = Finsch (120 Ma, Gp II); GB= Gibeon Eastern Namibia (66 Ma, Gp andI); K = Kimberley (90 Ma, Gp I & II); KM = Kuruman (1600 Ma); KR = Krononstad (145 Ma, Gp II); LS = Letseng (95 Ma); MZ = Mzongwea (152 Ma, Gp I); N = Namaqualand (67 Ma, Gp I); P = Premier (1200 Ma); PR = Prieska (120/90 Ma, Gp I and II); OR = Orapa (90 Ma, Gp I), GP = Gope (90 Ma, Gp I); JW = Jwaneng (235 Ma, Gp I); SW = Swartruggens (156 Ma, Gp I); NRSA = North Republic of South Africa (90 Ma, Gp I and II); SWB = SW Botswana (95 Ma, Gp I); VW = Victoria West (140 Ma, Gp I); W = Winburg (125 Ma, Gp II). Kimberlite fileds in Siberia are after Kiselev et al. (2012). DA = Daldyn-Alakit, M = Mirnyi, N = Nakyn.


Figure 5: Range of ore deposits associated with the 250 Ma Siberian LIP (part A) and ca. 270 Ma Tarim LIP of Central Asia (part B). Modified after Pirajno et al. (2009, Figs. 5, 6, 8); see also Borisenko et al., (2006). The distribution for each LIP includes both surface and subsurface occurrences; details in Pirajno et al. (2009). Abbreviations in (A): KTZF = Kolyvan-Tomsk fold zone, KB = Kuznetsk basin, SAL = Salair, SEL = Selenga, M-K = Maimecha-Kotui, NU = North Urals, SMVB = southern Mongolian volcanic belt, T= Taimyr.


Figure 6: Reconstruction (based on Giles et al., 2004) of north- and south-central Australia, showing the location and timing of definitively (e.g., Gawler) and potentially LIP-related A-type magmatism in eastern Australia; adapted from Betts et al. (2007). The IOCG deposits shown either formed from hydrothermal systems driven by the LIP or potential LIP magmatism, or the metals and/or ligands (e.g., F) within the hydrothermal fluids that formed these deposits were sourced from LIP-related igneous rocks. Note the south to north progression of magmatism, with initial formation of the Gawler craton silicic LIP before subsequent events in the Curnamona province and around Mount Isa; dashed line indicates the geophysical extend of the Mount Isa inlier. Stars indicate the location of significant IOCG mineralization: C = Carrapateena, E = Eloise, EH = Ernest Henry, OD = Olympic Dam, PH = Prominent Hill, SMDC = deposits of Selwyn-Mount Dore corridor.

Figure 7: Hydrothermal vent complexes (HVC) associated with the Siberian LIP. A. Distribution of mineralized HVCs (“pipes with magnetite”) and nonmineralized HVCs (“basalt pipes”). B. Schematic evolution of the mineralized pipes of the Tunguska basin and the venting of carbon gases and halocarbons to the atmosphere. (1) Emplacement of sills into organic-rich sedimentary rocks and evaporites with petroleum accumulations. (2) Contact metamorphism of shale, evaporite, and petroleum, leading to gas generation and overpressure (shown as stippled lines); melt is accumulating within evaporite sequences in the source region of the pipe. (3) Pipe formation and eruption led to wide craters and subsidence, and gases generated in contact aureoles are released to the atmosphere. (4) Continued degassing from both magma and sedimentary rocks through the pipe and the crater-lake.  Modified after Svensen et al. (2009); original digital version of part A of this diagram provided by A. Polozov.

Figure 8: Proposed Paleoproterozoic reconstruction of the Superior craton and formerly adjacent blocks. Note radiating dyke swarms, converging to the margin of the craton, that are indicative of breakup (or attempted breakup) events associated with the fragmentation of a late Archean supercontinent or supercraton (e.g., Bleeker 2003). These radiating swarms were used as piercing points that connect with coeval LIPs in formerly adjacent blocks and provide constraints on the reconstruction. Some specific correlations between the Matachewan and Mistassini LIPs of the Superior craton and corresponding events within the Karelia and Kola cratons are discussed in the text, as is the possible reconstruction of the Zimbabwe craton to the east of the Superior craton. Stippled pattern indicates the location of the Paleoproterozoic Huronian and Mistassini sedimentary basins, with the former containing intrusions of the East Bull Lake suite that form part of the Matachewan LIP. FRS = Fox River sill of the Molson LIP (part of the Circum-Superior LIP). Modified after Bleeker and Ernst (2006).


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