Fluid flow, alteration, and timing of Cu-Ag mineralization at the White Pine sediment-hosted copper deposit, Michigan, USA

Simon Mark Jones*, Jonathan Cloutier, Tony Prave, Timothy David Raub, Eva Elisabeth Stueeken, Holly J Stein, Gang Yang, Adrian Boyce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


White Pine, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is an archetypal sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposit. The Midcontinent rift system is one of only seven basins globally that host a giant sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposit. Despite many similarities with other deposits of this type, White Pine displays some important differences, including the late Mesoproterozoic age, a thick basalt sequence, an apparent lack of evaporites, and a lacustrine depositional setting. This study analyzes paleofluid flow related to the formation of White Pine and places a particular emphasis on structural and diagenetic fluid pathways.

Most of the ore is located in a 30-m-wide zone spanning the Copper Harbor Formation red beds and the overlying Nonesuch Formation shales. Sedimentation of these units was accompanied by subtle synsedimentary faulting. Premineralization phases include calcite concretions and nodules, illite and hematite grain coatings, isopachous chlorite rims, emplacement of liquid petroleum (now pyrobitumen), and bleaching. Mineralization introduced native copper into the footwall sandstones and a zoned suite of native copper and sulfur-poor copper sulfide minerals across a migrating redox front in the overlying shales where copper minerals nucleated on authigenic and detrital chlorite grains. Postmineralization phases include quartz cement, calcite cement, and calcite veins that partially overlapped inversion of synsedimentary faults. Contrary to previous studies, we identified evidence for only one phase of mineralization. An Re-Os chalcocite age of 1067 ± 11 Ma places mineralization 11 to 17 m.y. after host-rock deposition. Sulfide δ34S values of –14.0 to 29.9‰ suggest an important contribution from sour gas and thermochemical sulfate reduction of seawater. Carbon (δ13C) and oxygen (δ18O) isotope compositions of five calcite generations range from –15.1 to –1.3‰ and 10.4 to 41.3‰, respectively, and record early meteoric pore water displaced by later seawater.

White Pine is both a sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposit and a paleo-oil field. Synsedimentary faults controlled the sedimentological character of the upper Copper Harbor Formation, and together these imparted a strong control on fluid flow and later diagenetic processes. Early oxidized meteoric fluids were displaced by liquid petroleum and sour gas, which were in turn succeeded by metal-rich but sulfate-poor oxidized seawater. Burial compaction during deposition of the overlying Freda Formation drove fluids through White Pine due to its situation on a paleotopographic high near the basin margin. Mineralization occurred at ~125°C at depths of ~2.0 km and spanned incipient basin inversion related to the distal effects of Grenvillian orogenesis. The hightenor copper mineral assemblage is the product of an abundant supply of metal from basaltic volcanic detritus in the Copper Harbor Formation and low seawater sulfate concentrations in late Mesoproterozoic oceans. This demonstrates that viable sediment-hosted stratiform copper systems can form when a readily leachable metal source rock is present, even if hypersaline and sulfate-rich brines are not.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEconomic Geology
Early online date9 Aug 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Aug 2023


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