Geophysical Studies on the Architecture of Large Igneous Systems Hosting Magmatic Ore Deposits

Science Center Objects

Platinum group elements, also known as PGEs, are a group of elements that have specific properties which make them useful for various applications in industry. One geologic setting that contains large concentrations of platinum group elements is layered mafic intrusions. This project will use new and preexisting geophysical datasets to characterize the internal structure of layered intrusions. Datasets include magnetic, gravity, magnetotellurics, and seismic tomography.

Science Issue and Relevance

Platinum group elements, also known as PGEs, are a group of elements that have specific properties which make them useful for various applications in industry. Even though industry within the U.S. is heavily reliant on platinum group elements, most of the supply comes from areas outside of the U.S. Platinum group elements are generally rare in the earth’s crust, but in specific geologic settings under specific conditions they may be concentrated in amounts high enough to be economically mined. One geologic setting that contains large concentrations of platinum group elements is layered mafic intrusions. Studying the internal structure of these intrusions along with the structure and chemistry of the rocks they intrude provides a better understanding of the mineral resource potential of the intrusion.

Layered mafic intrusions form as magma rises, cools, and crystallizes in the earth’s crust. They have specific chemistry and pattern of mineral crystallization and are often associated with continental rifting events. The Midcontinent Rift system found in the United States has a number of these intrusions; however, the intrusions in this area are not as well studied or understood as other systems around the world.

Methodology to Address Issue

This project will use new and preexisting geophysical datasets to characterize the internal structure of layered intrusions. Datasets include magnetic, gravity, magnetotellurics, and seismic tomography. Analyses completed for better exposed and more thoroughly studied intrusions around the world (Great Dyke, Zimbabawe, Muskox, Canada, and Skaergaard, Greenland) will be used as a starting point to identify key geophysical signatures that correspond with high concentration areas of critical minerals. The same analyses will be completed and applied to the less studied Duluth and Beaver Bay Complex, Minnesota, Mellen Complex, Wisconsin, and Glen Mountains Complex, Oklahoma.

This project will focus on three objectives:

  1. Characterization of the internal architecture of intrusions with specific attention on the feeder zones.
  2. Investigation of how proximity to feeder zones may affect both distribution and properties of magmatic deposits.
  3. Exploration of how crustal structure and geochemistry of the surrounding basement rocks influences the emplacement and geochemistry of the intrusions.

Potential result of our research

The potential for certain magmatic ore deposits is directly related to the internal structure of intrusions; the results of the study will be used to constrain mineral resource potential. Work will focus on intrusions of the Duluth, Beaver Bay, Mellen along with the the Glen Mountains, Oklahoma. The proposed work will also consider how sedimentary basins localize the emplacement of intrusions in the crust and provide sulfur sources leading to deposits within an intrusion.

Project Activities

Characterize known and suspected feeder zones for large layered intrusions: The character, mineralogy, and chemistry of the large layered intrusions vary based on location within the intrusion. Platinum group element concentrations increase near feeder zones, therefore it is beneficial to understand this zone as much as possible. Three dimensional (3D) inversion and advanced geophysical analysis will be used to constrain the physical state, tectonic history, and geodynamic processes of the regions underlying large igneous provinces. 3D views of electrical conductivity variations in the crust and upper mantle will be developed from magnetotellurics studies using existing regional and new detailed data.

Characterize layering of layered mafic intrusions: The potential for certain magmatic ore deposits is directly related to the internal structure of the intrusions. One way to better map the internal structure is to look at the magmatic layering and its relation to feeder zones. For this task, interpretation techniques of magnetic and electromagnetic data previously applied to the Stillwater and Bushveld intrusions will be applied to the Duluth Complex, Minnesota, the Mellen Complex, Wisconsin, and the Glen Mountains Complex, Oklahoma.

Mapping sedimentary basement rocks beneath layered mafic intrusions: Sulfur isotope studies of other magmatic ore deposits indicate that external sources of sulfur are necessary for their formation. However, little attention has been given to mapping the rocks that may be the source of the sulfur or to considering mass balance relations. This task will consider how the sedimentary basin rocks beneath the intrusions localize the emplacement of intrusions in the crust and provide sulfur sources leading to deposits within an intrusion. The Animikie Basin and the Duluth Complex provide an opportunity to model this interaction using preexisting and new electromagnetic and magnetotelluric data.

Advanced Geophysical Characterization of Layered Mafic and Ultramafic Intrusions (2013-2015): Initial studies were conducted to characterize and model the geology and mineral resource potential of layered intrusions in the U.S. based on advanced analysis of geophysical data typically used in exploration (gravity, magnetic, and shallow electromagnetic methods) as well as unconventional data sets (seismic, magnetotelluric) and comparison with the world's largest layered mafic intrusion and source of platinum group elements, the Bushveld Complex in South Africa. Mafic and ultramafic layered intrusions in the U.S. have potential for mineralization that may contain platinum group elements, notably the Stillwater Complex in Montana and the Duluth Complex in Minnesota.

 

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