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Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Economic Geology, 100th Anniversary volume, Society of Economic Geologists, Volume 100th Anniversary Volume, p.5-24 (2005)


Magmatic Fe-Ni-Cu ± platinum-group element (PGE) sulfide deposits form when mantle-derived mafic and ultramafic magmas become saturated in sulfide and segregate immiscible sulfide liquid, commonly following interaction with crustal rocks. Although the metal contents of primary magmas influence ore compositions, they do not control ore genesis because the metals partition strongly into the sulfide liquid and because most magmas capable of segregating sulfide liquid contain sufficient abundances of ore metals. More important controls are the temperature, viscosity, volatile content, and mode of emplacement of the magma, which control the dynamics of magma emplacement and the degree of interaction with crust. By this measure, high-temperature, low-viscosity komatiites and tholeiitic picrites are most capable of forming Ni-Cu-(PGE) deposits, whereas lower-temperature, volatile-rich alkali picrites and basalts have less potential. In most deposits, ore formation is linked directly to incorporation of S-rich country rocks and only indirectly to contamination by granitic crust. However, the geochemical signature of contamination is easily recognized and is a useful exploration guide because it identifies magmas that had the capacity to incorporate crustal material. Several aspects of the ore-forming process remain poorly understood, including the control of mantle melting processes on the PGE contents of mafic-ultramafic magmas, the mechanisms by which sulfur is transferred from wall rocks to ores (bulk assimilation, incongruent melting, and/or devolatilization), the distances and processes by which dense sulfide melts are transported from where they form to where they become concentrated (as finely-dispersed droplets, as segregated layers, or by deformation-driven injection of massive sulfide accumulations), and the dynamic processes that increase the metal contents of the ores.