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Tungsten resources of the northern Rocky Mountains, Montana and Idaho— A synthesis and quantitative assessment of skarn-hosted resources

May 26, 2023

Mineral resource assessments performed by the U.S. Geological Survey provide a synthesis of available information about the location of known and suspected mineral deposits. This study focuses on skarn-hosted tungsten resources in the northern Rocky Mountain region of east-central Idaho and western Montana which have seen moderate tungsten trioxide production in the past from a variety of mineralization styles including skarn, vein and replacement, and wolframite-quartz veins. The area’s geology is dominated by large Cretaceous and Tertiary plutons that are emplaced into a belt of Mesoproterozoic to Permian sedimentary rock and affected by tectonism related to the Sevier and later Laramide orogenies. Known tungsten skarn mineral sites are associated with contacts between Cretaceous plutons and calcareous and argillaceous sedimentary or metasedimentary rocks, including two skarn deposits in Montana (Calvert and Browns Lake) that are consistent with an updated grade and tonnage model.

This study (1) delineates permissive tracts where undiscovered tungsten skarn deposits may occur within 1 kilometer of the surface; (2) presents a tungsten mineral site dataset from a variety of public sources; (3) evaluates currently available geochemical, geophysical, and radiometric age data in support of tract delineation; (4) provides probabilistic estimates of the amount of tungsten and tungsten-mineralized rock that could be contained in undiscovered deposits within one major tract; (5) estimates the value of total undiscovered deposits using economic filter analysis; and (6) provides a synthesis of metallogenic controls on regional tungsten skarn and granitoid-related mineral deposits.

Two permissive tracts were delineated: the Great Falls tectonic zone (GFTZ)-Cretaceous tract, for which a quantitative assessment was performed, and the Bitterroot tract, which was assessed in a qualitative manner. The quantitative three-part assessment, conducted in August 2019, indicates that undiscovered tungsten resources might exist in skarn-type deposits within the study area. Using a negative binomial function, a mean of 4 undiscovered deposits was calculated from panel estimates. Simulation results that combine an updated grade and tonnage model with estimates of undiscovered deposits include the amounts of ore and contained tungsten trioxide at different levels of uncertainty. A mean of 250,000 metric tons and median of 200,000 metric tons contained tungsten trioxide was calculated for the undiscovered deposits within the GFTZ-Cretaceous tract. The value of undiscovered deposits was estimated using a new economic filter that considers factors such as mine type, deposit depth, deposit geometry, metallurgical recovery rate, cutoff grade, and tract area.

A review of the regional Archean to Paleogene geology suggests that ore metal (copper, molybdenum, and tungsten) variations in intrusion-related deposits of Montana and Idaho may be controlled by a number of factors including the age and composition of underlying basement terranes, depth of emplacement, pluton chemistry and degree of fractionation, redox conditions, and aqueous fluid-melt partition coefficients.

Publication Year 2023
Title Tungsten resources of the northern Rocky Mountains, Montana and Idaho— A synthesis and quantitative assessment of skarn-hosted resources
DOI 10.3133/sir20235012
Authors Allen K. Andersen, Margaret A. Goldman, Mitchell M. Bennett, Connie L. Dicken, Philip J. Brown, Heather L. Parks
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5012
Index ID sir20235012
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center