Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Metallogeny of the midcontinent rift system of North America

January 1, 1992

The 1.1 Ga Midcontinent rift system of North America is one of the world's major continental rifts and hosts a variety of mineral deposits. The rocks and mineral deposits of this 2000 km long rift are exposed only in the Lake Superior region. In the Lake Superior region, the rift cuts across Precambrian basement terranes ranging in age from ??? 1850 Ma to more than 3500 Ma. Where exposed, the rift consists of widespread tholeiitic basalt flows with local interlayered rhyolite and clastic sedimentary rocks. Beneath the center of Lake Superior the volcanic and sedimentary rocks are more than 30 km deep as shown by recent seismic reflection profiles. This region hosts two major classes of mineral deposits, magmatic and hydrothermal. All important mineral production in this region has come from hydrothermal deposits. Rift-related hydrothermal deposits include four main types: (1) native copper deposits in basalts and interflow sediments; (2) sediment-hosted copper sulfide and native copper; (3) copper sulfide veins and lodes hosted by rift-related volcanic and sedimentary rocks; and (4) polymetallic (five-element) veins in the surrounding Archean country rocks. The scarcity of sulfur within the rift rocks resulted in the formation of very large deposits of native metals. Where hydrothermal sulfides occur (i.e., shale-hosted copper sulfides), the source of sulfur was local sedimentary rocks. Magmatic deposits have locally supported exploration and minor production, but most are subeconomic presently. These deposits occur in intrusions exposed near the margins of the rift and include CuNiPGE and TiFe (V) in the Duluth Complex, U-REE-Nb in small carbonatites, and breccia pipes resulting from local hydrothermal activity around small felsic intrusions. Mineralization associated with some magmatic bodies resulted from the concentration of incompatible elements during fractional crystallization. Most of the sulfide deposits in intrusions, however, contain sulfur derived from country rocks; the interaction between magma and country rocks was important in generation of the magmatic CuNi sulfide deposits. A mantle plume origin has been proposed for the formation of the Midcontinent rift. More than 1 million km3 of mafic magma was erupted in the rift and a comparable volume of mafic intrusions are inferred beneath the rift, providing a ready and structurally confined supply of mafic source rocks that were available for leaching of metals by basinal brines. These brines were heated by a steep geothermal gradient that resulted from the melting and underplating of magma derived from the plume. Hydrothermal deposits were emplaced for at least 30-40 m.y. after rift magmatism and extension ceased. This time lag may reflect either the time required to heat deeply buried rocks and fluids within the rift, or may be due to the timing of post-rift compression that may have provided the driving mechanism for expulsion of hydrothermal fluids from deep portions of the rift. ?? 1992.

Publication Year 1992
Title Metallogeny of the midcontinent rift system of North America
Authors S. W. Nicholson, W. F. Cannon, K. J. Schulz
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Precambrian Research
Index ID 70017108
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse