You are on page 1of 21

GENESIS

OF

LAKE

SUPERIOR

CHARLES KENNETH

IRON

ORES2

LEITH.

: The iron-oresof the Lake Superior region occur as concentrations in "iron-formations," ranging from a few hundred to
I,OOO feet or more in thickness.

These formations in their

present form representthe alterationsof chemicallydeposited


sediments,for the mostpart interbeddedwith normal clasticediments,suchas slate and quartzite.
In the Vermilion and Michipicotendistricts the productive
iron-formation is in the Keewatin seriesof the Archean group.
In the Mesabi and Gogebicdistrictsthe iron-formationis a part
of the Upper Huronian series. In the Marquette district two
productive iron-formations are present, one in the Middle
Huronian and anotherin the Upper Huronian, the former being

the more important. In the Crystal Falls district the ironformation is in both Upper Huronian and Lower Huronian
series,the former being the principalproducer. In the Menomineedistrictthe formationis of Upper Huronian age.
The iron-formations of the different districts and ages are

surprisinglysimilar in their generalcharacters. Indeed,it was


long assumed,erroneously,
that becauseof their similaritythey
mustbeof the sameageandorigin. They may thenbedescribed
as a unit.

The iron-formation consistsmainly of chert, or quartz, and


ferric oxide,segregatedin bandsor shootsor irregularlymingled.
Publishedby permissionof the Director of the United States Geological
Survey. [This paper is largely a summary of conclusionswhich have been
presented in detail in United States Geological Survey Monographs Nos. I9,

8, 36, 43, 45, 46 and 47 and the Twenty-First Annual Report'by R. D. Irving
and C. R. Van Hise, or under Dr. Van Hise's direction by W. S. Bayley,
J. Morgan Clements, H. L. Smyth, C. K. Leith and others. It covers also
work done sincethe publicationof these reports. The general geologyof the
ores and ore-bearing series is summarized by the writer in Vol. XXXVI. of
the Transactionsof the 4raercanInstitute of Mining Engineers. Parts of
that summary are quoted in the present paper.]
47

48

CHARLES KENNETH

LEITH

Where in bands,with the quartz layers coloredred and the rock


highly crystalline,it is calledjasper. Where lesscrystallineand
either in bands or irregularly intermingled,the rock is known
as ferruginous chert. In the Mesabi district the local name
"taconite" is appliedto the ferruginouschert. Other phasesof
the iron-formation, subordinatein quantity though not in importance,are () ordinary clay slates,showingevery possible

gradationthroughferruginousslateinto ferruginouschert; (2)


paint-rocks,alteredequivalentsof the slates; (3) amphibotemagnetiteschists;(4) cherty iron carbonate(siderite) and
hydrousferroussilicate(greenalite); (5) the iron-oresthemselves.

It may be emphasized
that almostthe entirebulk of the ironformation now consistsof iron oxide and silica, with carbonates

and aluminapresentin subordinate


quantity. The varyingcombinationof parts or all of theseconstituents,
mechanically,
or

chemically,
or both,givesall of the rocktypesabovelisted.
THE

ORIGINAL

ROCKS.

It hasbeenshownthat the ferruginous


cherts,jaspers,amphibole-magnetite
schists,and iron-oresof the iron-formationresult from the alterationeitherof the chertyiron carbonateor of
ferroussilicate(greenalite), or, to. a minute extent, from iron
sulphide. The small amountsof iron carbonateor ferrous
silicate now found in the formations representmere remnants
left unalteredwhere so protectedby other rocksas not to have
beenaffectedby altering agents. The evidenceof the derivation
of the iron-ores and associatedcherts and jaspers from the iron

carbonatesand iron silicatesis summarizedon anotherpage.


In the Marquette, Gogebic,Vermilion and Crystal Falls districts, the original rock hasbeendescribedas iron carbonate. In
the Mesabi district, the original rock has been describedas con-

sistingof ferrous silicateor "greenalite" granulesprincipally,


but with

subordinate

amounts

of iron carbonate.

In the Felch

Mountain and Republic areas, the presenceof granules similar


to the Mesabi granuleshas beennoted. In the Menomineedis-

GENESIS

OF LAKE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

49

trict, both iron carbonateand silicategranuleshave beensupposed


to yield the ore.
The

vast

scale on which

the alteration

of

ferrous

silicate

granuleshas occurredin the Mesabi district, together with the


evidence of the somewhat wide-spread distribution of such
granulesin unknownbut smallquantity,has led to a re-examination of the oresand rocksof the remainingdistricts,with the
result that evidenceof the prior existenceof granuleshas been
found also in both the Gogebicand Crystal Falls districts. So
far as the re-examinationhasgone,however,it tendsto confirm
the essential correctness of the determination

of iron carbonate as

the dominantoriginal iron-formationrock for thesedistricts.


In the new Animikie iron-range,on the northwestcoastof
Lake Superior,the easterncontinuationof the Mesabi range,

originaland secondary
iron carbonateand pseudomorphs
after
greenaliteare foundsowell exposed
and socloselyassociated
in
distributionthat it is hopedthat the studyof this districtnow
in progress
mayfurnishdecisive
evidence
of the realrelations
of
these two substances.

The originof the ironcarbonate


andgreenalite
rocksis partly
known. Boththe iron cai'bonates
and the greenalites(and their
alteredequivalents)
constitute
a conformable
part of a continuous
sedimentary
succession,
beinginterbedded
andconformably
overlainor underlain
by fragmental
rocks,suchasquartziteandslate.
Theyarethemselves
bedded.It is impossible
to escape
theconclusionthat they are water-deposited
sediments.
'It is further

clearthattheyarenotwater-deposited
sediments
of an ordinary
nature. They are not fragmental;their nearestanalogues
are
chemical sediments, such as limestones.

From hereon in our explanationwe mustdependrather upon


analogywith chemicalsediments,
suchas limestone,'
and with
iron compoundsnow being precipitatedin bogs and lakes and
elsewhere,than upon direct evidencein the formation itself. On
this basisthe history of the developmentof these rocks, as outlined by Van Hise,x is as follows:
"Iron-Ore Deposits of the Lake Superior Region," by C. R. Van Hise,
Twenty-first Annual Report U.S. GeologicalSurvey, Part III., pp. 305-434.

CH/IRLES

50

KENNETH

LEITH

It is...
my belief that the iron for the iron-bearing formations was
largely derived from the more ancient basicvolcanic rocks of the Lake Superior
region. When the individual districts are taken up it will be seenthai a greenstone, often ellipsoidal, in many places porous and amygdaloidal, in many
places schistose, and rich in iron, is the most characteristic rock of the
Archcan, and that similar rocks occur abundantly in the Huronian. Where
these igneous rocks were adjacent to the seas they would be leached'by the
underground-water and the iron transported to the adjacent seas. It is probable that to some extent this leaching processalso went on below the waters
of the sea. The iron was probably transported to the water mainly as carbonate, but to some extent as sulphate. The carbonate would there be
thrown down by oxidation and hydration as limonite, and the sulphate in
part as basic ferric sulphate. Much of the sulphate was probably directly
precipitated as sulphide by the organic material. The limonite would be
mingled with the organic matter which was undoubfedlypresent, as shown
by the associatedcarbonaceousand graphitic shalesand slates. When deeply
buried the organic matter would reduce the iron sesquioxideto iron protoxide.
By the simultaneous decompositionof the organic matter carbon dioxide

would be produced,which would unite with much of the protoxide of iron,


producing iron carbonate. The sulphate of the basic ferrous sulphate would

be reduced
to thesulphide
by theorganicmaterial,thusproducing
thepyric
carbonates. Where the iron was brought to the water mainly as sulphatethe
direct reduction of this salt by organic matter would form iron sulphide with
little or no carbonate. Simultaneously with the production of these substanceschert was formed, probably through the influence of organisms.
Some of this silica would unit'e with a part of the protoxide, producing
ferrous

silicate.

More

or less mechanical

sediment would

also be laid down.

Thus the original rocks--the cherty iron carbonates,the ferrous silicate rocks,
and the pyritic cherts--would be produced.
It has chanced that at three different periods in the history of the Lake
Superior region, these processesof the developmentof the original rocks of the
iron-bearing formations have occurred extensively. While this might at first
be thought' remarkable, there is no good reason for thus regarding it. At
sometime during each of the Archcan, Lower Huronian and Upper HuronJan
periods the quiescentconditionsof chemical and organic sedimentationhave
occurred, and since the iron-bearing volcanic rocks were each time available

for the work of 'underground-waters


and sea waters,naturally iron carbonate
and the other original rocks have been produced. In each period the source
of the material and the process of its formation were essentially the same.

In a monographon the Mesabi district the writer tentatively


followed this explanation,but recognizedthe possibility of or-.

ganicagencies
havingtakenpart in the'development
of the
greenalitegranules.
Spurr had previouslyconcluded
them to
be entirelyof organicorigin.a (See p. 64.)
"The Penokee Iron-Bearing Series of Michigan and Wisconsin," by R. D.

Irving and C. R. Van Hise. Mon. U.S. Geol. Survey No. x9, x892,pp. 246-253.
-" The Mesabi Iron-Bearing District of Minnesota,"by C. K. Leith. Mon.
U.S. Geol. Survey No. 43, x9o3.
a ,, The Mesabi Iron-Bearing Rocks," by J. E. Spurr, Bull. Geol: and Nat.
Hist. Survey o[ Minn., No. X., x894.

GENESIS
ALTERATION

OF LAKE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

OF ORIGINAL
ROCKS TO IRON-ORES,
JASPERS AND OTHER ROCKS.

51
CHERTS,

This has consistedbroadly, first, in the oxidation of the ferrous iron and recrystallizationof the chert of the original rocks
under surfaceconditionsthrough the agencyof meteoricwaters
and, second,in the partial oxidation, sillcationand recrystallization of both original and weatheredproductsunder the anamorphic conditionsof deep burial or igneousassociations. The
chemistryof the changesis summarizedin Table I. They have
beenbegunor completedin one district or horizonbeforethey
have been begun in another.
The alteration of the iron-formation, resulting in the concentration of the iron-ore or in the developmentof ferruginous

chertsand jaspers and amphibole-schists,


has taken place in
differentgeologicalperiodsundervariousconditions,
with a resuit that the ores of each of the districts, as well as of different

partsof thesame
district,
showconsiderable
lithological
variety.
The sameingredients--ironoxide and silica--appearhere me-

chanically
combined
as highlycrystalline
jasper,thereas a soft
ferruginouschert, or both mechanically
and chemicallycombinedas an amphibole-magnetite
schist. The iron-oxidemay
appearhereas a brilliantspecular
hematiteor magnetite,
and
thereas a softgranularhematiteor limonite. The oresof the
Mesabidistrictare soft and granularand associated
with ferruginous
cherts.At theeastendtheybecome
amphibolific,
magneffticandnon-productive.
The oresof the Gogebic
districtare
of a similarnatureandbecome
amphibolitic,
magnetiticandnon-

productive
at boththeeastandwestendsof thedistrict.The
ores of the Vermilion district are hard, blue and red ores,--at

Ely, brecciated,
associated
with jaspers.The oresof the Marquettedistrictcomprise
hardblueoresandbrilliantspecular
ores
associated
with jaspers,called"hard-orejaspers"; soft oresassociatedwith ferruginouscherts,or "soft-ore jaspers"; and with
underlyinglates,and at the west end of the district magnetite
and specularhematite ores associatedwith jaspers and with
amphibole-magnetite
rocks.

52

CHARLES

KENNETH

LEITH

Without going into the variableconditionsin the severaldistricts and the varying geologicalhistory of the different ores
and rocks,it may be said that, so far as the alterationof the
iron-formationhas proceededcontinuouslyunder the influence
of surface-waterswithout interruption by igneousactivity or
orogenicmovements,
the soft oresand ferrugnouschertshave
resulted. So far as these have been subsequentlyunder deepseatedconditionsof alteration,they havebecomedehydratedinto

hard red and blue specularores and brilliant jaspers. This


phaseof the alterationdid not requirethe agencyof surface
oxidizing-waters.
So far as the alterationof the originalironformationtookplacewithinthe sphereof influence
of greatintrusive masses where the waters were heated and oxygen was

not abundant,or under similar conditionsdevelopedby deep

burialandorogenic
movement,
the iron oxideandsilicaof the
formationcombined,with smallamountsof other substances,
to
form ferrous silicates,and the ferrous iron was oxidized to

nagnetite,
makingoneof thevarietyof rocksusuallydescribed
as amphibole-magnetite
schists.
An accountof the development
of the iron oresof the Mar-

quette
district
will illustrate
thecomplexity
of thefactors
which
havedetermined
thepresent
varietyof ironformation
material.
TheMarquette
ironoresbelong
to fivegeological
horizons.In
thelowerandmiddlepartsof theNegaunee
formation(Middle
Huronian)theoreis principally
a softhydrated
hematite
associatedwith ferruginous
chertsor "soft orejaspers."In the

upper
partoftheNegaunee
formation
theoreislargely
a crystallinehematite,
sometimes
specular
andmagnetic,
associated
with
hardcrystalline
jasper
or "hardorejasper,"
differing
fromthe
ferruginous
chertsimply
in beingrecrystallized
anddehydrated.
At the contactof the Negauneeformationwith the overlying
Goodrichquartzite(Upper Huronian)is againhard hematite
associated
with jasper. This includes
the alteredconglomeratic
baseof the Upper Huronianseries. The ore bodiesat this
horizonare so intimatelyrelated to both Upper HuronJanand
Lower Huronian seriesas to weld them together. In the Bessie
iron formation at or near the base of the Michigamme slate

GENESIS

OF L.4KE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

53

(Upper Huronian) the ore is again principallya soft hydrated


hematite associatedwith ferruginous cherts and ferruginous
slates.

Small amountsof iron carbonatemay be observedat these


horizons with such structural and petrographic relations to
the other phasesof the iron formation as to lead to the belief that they constitute remnants which, because of their
positions,have escapedalteration; that iron carbonateoriginally
constitutedthe major part of the iron formation for that horizon,
and that subsequentalteration has yielded the other phasesof
the formation.

The Negauneeiron-formationwas depositedprincipallyas an


iron carbonate,a chemicalsediment---conformably
underlain,interbeddedand perhapsoverlainby mud or other mechanicalsediments.

When the formationemergedfrom the seaand was exposed


to erosion,weatheringagenciesdevelopedsoft hydratedhematites and ferruginouschertsfrom the partsof the iron carbonate
exposed. This alterationwas a surficialphenomenon
which,becauseof the low angle of the erosionplane to the bedding,
affectedmorelargelythe upperhorizonsof the Negauneeformation than the lower horizons. The carbonateof the unexposed
parts remainedunaltered.

The Negauneeland area was submerged


by the Upper Huronian seaand the Upper Huronian sediments
laid down on it,
beginning
withthedetritaliron-oreandferruginous
chertderived

fromtheNegaunee
formation
below. Later,whenthedeposition
of themudof theMichigammeformationhadbegun,iron carbonate of the Bessieformationwas deposited,which was in turn
accompanied
with and overlaidby mud.

Up_lift.
folding,
andintrusion
ofbasic
igneous
rocks
which
acI

companied
andIollowect
sectmen{allon,
furnished
conditions
of

anamorphismsuchthat the soft oresand chertswhich had been


previously formed during the inter-Huronian period of erosion
were dehydratedand recrystallizedinto hard hematites,in part
specular and magnetic, and the associatedferruginous cherts

were recrystallizedand dehydratedinto brilliant red jaspilites.

54

CH.4RLES

KENNETH

LEITH

The unaltered iron carbonateswere for the most part not


changed,but where the anamorphicconditionswere intense,as in
the western part of the district, the carbonateswere altered to
amphibole-magnetite
rocks,a changeinvolvingthe partial oxidation of the ferrousiron into magnetite,the combinationof ferrous iron and subordinate

constituents

with

the silica to form

amphibole,the pronouncedrecrystallizationof the remaining


chert, and local developmentof garnet. Contemporaneous
concentrationof the ferric oxide may also have occurred.
At this stage the iron-formationsconsistedof unaltered iron
carbonate,constitutingmost of the lower part of the Negaunee

and Bessieformations,crystallinehematitesand jaspilitesof the


upper horizon of the Negaunee and at the contact of the
Negaunee and Goodrich formations, and amphibole-magnetite
rocks on the same horizon

at the west end of the district.

All of the Negaunee,Goodrichand Bessieiron-formationrocks '


were subsequently
exposedto weatheringby erosion,assignedto
post-Keweenawantime. Then the iron carbonatesin the lower
part of the Negaunee formation and of the Bessie formation,
which had before escapedalteration, were for the first time

reachedby surfaceerosionand underwentkatamorphism


normal
to weatheringconditions,
developin.
g soft oresand ferruginous
cherts. The hard iron ores, jaspersand magnetiterocksof the
upperpart of the Negauneeformationand of the contactbetween
the Negaunee and Goodrich formations were relatively unaffected,but the magnetitewas locally changedto martite; garnets,developed
duringthe precedinganamorphicconditions,were
katamorphosed
to chlorite; and silicawas leachedout, thus en-

riching the ores. The enrichmentof the ores by the leaching


out of silicais strikinglyapparentin the detritaloresat the base
of the Goodrichformation, where on the weatheredsurfacechert

and jasperpebbles
havebeenpartly or wholly removed,leaving
pits, while an inch or so from the surfacethesesubstances
remain.

With the closeof the.pre-Cambrian,the ores were largely as


we now find them, but concentrationhas been going on since
through the transportationand depositionof the iron salts in

GENESIS

OF LAKE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

solutionand the leachingout of silica, exceptwhen the district


may have beenburied under formationswhich have sincebeen
removed.
WATER

THE

AGENT

OF

BEARING

ALTERATION

OF

THE

IRON-

ROCKS.

Themedium
of thealteration
is water,coming
moreor less
directly from the surface,carrying oxygen and carbondioxide.
The

concentration

of the ores has been found

to occur where

such waters have been converged. Various factors have determined this convergence--fracturingand brecciationof the
iron-formation, existenceof imperviouslayers in such attitudes
as either to convergewaters coming from aboveor to impound
the waters and deflect their course between two layers. The
presenceof an impervious layer forming a pitching-trough is

perhaps
the'mostconspicuous
structural
featuredetermining
the
convergenceof waters concentratingthe ores. The impervious
troughs consist, in the Mesabi district, of slate or paint-rock
layers within the formation itself; in the Vermilion district,
of greenstone with which the iron-formation is infolded or
interbedded;in the Penokee-Gogebicdistrict, of diorite dikes
intersectinga foot-wall quartzite; in the Marquette district, of
a greenstone.intrusive into the iron-formation, or of a slate
underlying the iron-formation; in the Menomineedistrict, of
dolomiteunderlying the iron-formation, or of slate layers within
the formation itself. In all these districts, except the Mesabi,
the presenceof this imperviousbasementseemsto be clearly the
controllingfactor in the convergence
of waterswhich have concentrated

the ores.

In the Mesabi district, also, impervioustroughsmay be immore important than, other factors. The iron-formation and
its associated
rockslie in bedson the souths!opeof the Giant's
range, and dip off gently to the southat anglesaveragingfrom
8 to 'xo. In additionto the generalsouthwardtilting of the.
beds, they are gently flexed into folds with axes transverseto
the trend of the range. Waters falling on the south slope of

56

CH.4RLES KENNETH LEITH

the Giant's range, and flowing to the south, enter the eroded
edgesof the iron-formationand continuetheir way down along
its layers, some of which are pervious and some of which are
slaty and comparativelyimpervious to water. The flow thus
tends to becomeconcentratedalong the axes of the synclines
which pitch gently to the southward. Such synclinesare not

necessarily
Surface-troughs.
Theyareevidenced
by theattitude
of the layers of the iron-formation,and may not be apparentin
the unequally-erodedrock-surfaceor at the surfaceof the irregular covering of glacial draft. The concentration of the flow
along the synclinesin the layers of the iron-formationseemsso
simple and evident that there is a temptation to generalizeand
say that the undergroundcirculationhas probablyconcentrated
the ores along these broad synclines. When the district was
first examinedby the U.S. GeologicalSurvey this simple explanation was applied. But further study shows that other
factorsmodify the circulationof water and the localizationof the
ore, and that thesesecondaryfactorsmay be locallydominant.
The most importantof thesemodifying factorsis the fracturing of the iron-formation which has furnished numeroustrunkchannelsfor the circulation of underground-waters. The water

hasbeenconfined
to narrow,
irregular
andmostdevious
t,p-unkchannelsformed by the fracturing of the iron-formatiofi, and,
while it has probably followed the fracture-openingsalong
synclinesto a greater extent than along anticlines, it has not
filled the entire syncline formed by the folding of the ironformation. The result is that the ores have developedalong
irregular areas within the synclines. They may occupya considerablepart of the syncline,in which casethe synclinalstructure of the iron-formation may be observedin the layers of
wall-rock adjacent to the ores. In other cases,they occupyso
small a proportion of the synclinethat the layers of the ironformation in the adjacent wall-rock give no indicationof synclinal dips. Not infrequently several more or less independent
depositsmay have developedin the samegeneralsyncline,as, for
instance,in the area adjacentto the town of Virginia. To put

it briefly,the oresshowsuchposition,irregularity,extent,and

GENESIS

OF L.4KE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

57

relationsto wall-rocksas to make applicablethe expressionsometimes heard in the district that the oreshave developedthrough

the "rotting" of the iron-formationalong fractures,usually,


but not al.ways,in broadsynclinalareas.
Other factors modifying the general underground-flowof
water in the Mesabi iron-formationare the numerousimperviousslaty layerswithin the iron-formation,and the Virginia slate
capping the iron-formation of the south. So far as the water

is free to flow southward


'throughthe iron-formation,
the
imperviouslayers serve only to limit the flow below. But the
continuoussouth dip of the imperviousstrata carries the waters
down to a point when the ground is saturatedand the waters
are pondedbetweenimperviouslayers aboveand below. That
ponding actually occursis shown by the fact that drill-holes

penetratingthe slatesand enteringthe iron-formationsometimes


meetwater underpressure,indicatingartesianconditions. When
ponded,the waterseeksthe lowestpointof escape,
whichis likely
to be found near the north margin of the slate-layers. The
movementof water towardsthe lowestpoint of escapecausesa
considerablelateral movement in the circulation, and this lateral
movementhas probably,at least in part, controlledthe shapeof

certain depositson the range which have their longer dimensionsparallelto the strikeof the layersof the iron-formation.
The pondingof the water and consequent
overflow has still
anothereffect. Where pondedthe flow is governedby the point
of lowestescaperather than by the shapeof the imperviousbasement. When water is drawn off at the edgeof a basin,the flow
is greatestnear the point of escapeand diminishesin all directions away from that point. This statement is true, whether
the bottom of the basin is flat or fluted; hence, in the Mesabi
iron-formation, where the water is ponded,the flow is concen-

trated near the point of lowestescaperegardlessof whetherthis


be over a synclineor anticline so far as both are below waterlevel. The lowestpoint of escapeis likely to be over synclines,
but the surfaceerosion,bothby glacialand meteoricagencies,
has
beenso uneventhat this is not alwaysthe case. For this reason

it is not certainthat iron-oredeposits


near the edgeof the Vir-

58

CH.4RLES KENNETH

LEITH

ginia slateor nearthe edgeof interstratified


slate-layers
may not

havedeveloped
along
arches
aswell
asinsynclines
oftheironformation.
The abovefactsare intimatelyrelatedto theproblemof finding

ore under the solid black Virginia slate. The questionis frequently asked, is there any reasonwhy ore shall not be found
under the black slate? The absence of ore under the slate has

not beendemonstratedby actual drilling; only a comparatively


few holes have penetrated any considerablethickness of the
Virginia slate and entered the iron-formation below. Yet such

holesas have beenput down have revealedore only near the


slate-marginand frequently of 10w-grade. In severalcases,the
iron-formationbeneaththe slatehasbeenshownto be of a green,
unalteredvariety, indicatingthat the alterationnecessaryfor the
developmentof ore-depositshas not gone far. If .the development of the ore is dependentupona vigorouscirculation,and this

vigorous
circuiation
is lacking
undertheVirginiaslatebecause
of the ponding,we may haveherean adequatecausefor tle nonexistence of ore-deposits under the black slate. Yet, further

workmayhow
thatother
'actorsavnd,

consider-

ing the extent and value of the new iron-bearingterritory which


would be thrown open were ore found under the Virginia slate,
more actualdrilling seemsadvisableto settlethe question.
In the Gogebic district, while the imperviousbasementhas
beenthe controllingfactor in the concentrationof waters,andconsequentlyof the ores,faulting throughthe dikeshasaffordedfree
passages
of whichadvantagehasbeentakenb.ycirculatingwaters,
with the result that the ores follow suchfaulting-planesand are
not uniformlyconfinedto positionson the impervioustroughs.
For all of the districts except the Mesabi, the vertical element
in the distributionof the oresis an importantone. In the Mesabi

districtthe horizontalelementis the greatestone in mostcases.


Here, a single ore-bodyor a group of ore-depositsmay give
practicallya continuoussurfaceof iron-ore for severalmiles, with
a depth ranging from a few feet to 400 feet or more. In the

other rangesa depthof ore of x,ooofeet is commonand 2,000


feet has been exceptionallyreached. It is not unlikely that in

GENESIS

OF LAKE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

59

some places,particularly the Gogebicdistrict, the ores will be


found to greater depth, although the lower limit is well determined for the most part. Theoretically,the lower limit of the
ore-bodiesought to be the lower limit of the active circulation
of oxidizing waters from the surface. In the Mesabi district the
proportionof the area of the ore-bodiesappearingat the rocksurfaceto that of the iron-formation as a whole is perhaps8 per
cent. foe the productivepart of the district and 5 per cent. for
the entire district. For the other districtsof the Lake Superior
region,the area of the iron-ore depositsis far lessthan this percentageof the area of the iron-formation as a whole. In bulk,
the percentageof ores to the iron-formation is much smaller

throughoutthe Lake Superiorcountry,for it will be remembered


that the oresare essentially
surfacealterationsand are well represented at the surface.
TOPOGRAPHIC

RELATIONS

OF THE

ORES.

With veryfewexceptions,
theore-deposits'
of theLakeSuperior regionlie eitheron the slopesor at the foot of conspicuous
rangesor hills. This has been explainedby Van Hise as due
to the concentration
of oresthrough the circulationof groundwaters. Topographicelevationshave given the waters sufficient
headto searchthe groundon their slopesand perhapsat the base
of the slopes. On the slopesthe movement of the water is
largelydo;nwardand more or lessdirectfrom the surface,thus
carrying an abundanceof altering agents,particularlyoxygen
and carbon diox!de, while in interveninglow-lying areas the
watersescapewith a lateraland upwardmovementafter a longer
underground-journey,
during which they have lost considerable
proportionsof the agents altering the iron-formation to ores.
Van I-tisehasheldthat, in the latter positions,theoreshavenotdelveloped
soabundantlyas on the slopes. The presenttopography

is in manyplacesnot the samein detailasthetopography


which
existedat the time the oreswere concentrated,
and accordingly
it is not safe,in discussing
the relationsof the oresto the topography,to considertoo smalltopographic
units. Believingthat
the presentmajor topographicconditionsrepresent,at least in

60

CHARLES

KENNETH

LEITH

part, the past conditions,Van Hise has discussedin somedetail


the relations of the Lake Superior ores to the particular topographic features of the different districts. In one or two cases,
and especially in the Gogebic district, the topographic units
selectedfor discussion
may have beentoo small, and this has resulted in criticism of the entire theory. It is believedthat his
main conclusionsas to the relationsof the ores to the major topo-

graphicfeatureshave been confirmedrather than disprovedby


recent work.
POINTS

FOR

WHICH

MORE

EVIDENCE

IS NEEDED.

Is evidenceof the secondarydevelopmentof the ores from

iron carbonate'
andgreenalite
sutcientto preclude
ttlepossibility
that a part of the ores may have been originally depositedas
hydrated hematitein chemicalor organic sediment? The evidencethat the Lake Superior ores developedfrom the alteration
of ferrous compoundsof iron carbonate,or iron silicate (greenalite), or iron sulphide,is in briefestoutline as follows:
I. Completegradation may be observedbetween iron carbonateor greenaliteor iron sulphideon the one hand and iron
ore and associated

cherts on the other.

The

former

are un-

stable compoundsunder present surface conditions;the latter


under the same conditions are stable.

It is certain for the fore-

going reasonsthat the connectinggradationsrepresentalterations from the former toward the latter.

Moreover:, the actual

progressof the alteration has been observedboth in the field


and laboratory.

2. The iron ores and associatedrocks exhibit: textures and


structuressimilar to those of the iron carbonatesor greenalite
rocksor of rockswhich can be directly observedto have altered

from them. The granular texturesof the greenaliterockspersistthroughthe ore and ferruginouschert. The bandingof the
iron carbonatesoften persistslikewise. These textures appear
mostconspicuously
and abundantlyin the lessalteredportionsof
the formation and may be entirely lacking in the more altered
portions,in which casesit is concluded
that the absenceof distinguishingtexturesis due simplyto the metamorphism.If due

GENESIS

OF LAKE

SUPERIOR

IRON

ORES

6I

to differencesin original sedimentation,it would involve most


capriciouschanges,both vertical and lateral, during such sedimentation,and further it would involvethe assumptionthat great
metamorphismconfinesitself to areas in which sedimentswere
depositedwith textures and structures different from those observedin the.lessaltered portions.
3. The oresalwayscometo the rock surfaceat somepoint, and

are foundto die out at no very great depth. They are essentially
surface phenomena. If depositedoriginally as iron oxide in
sedimentarysuccession,
the depositsshouldbe found not only at
the 'erosionsurface,but uniformly throughoutits stratigraphic
horizon along anticlinesand synclinesto whatever depth this
may take them.

4. The oresare found on imperviousbasements


of shapesand
attitudes to furnish pitching troughs for downward moving
meteoricwaters necessaryto carry on the observedalterations.
Thesebasements
consistof alteredslate,of dolomite,of quartzite,
and of "greenstone" in the form of dikesor bosses. A partial
exceptionappearsin the iron ores at the contactof the Upper
Huronian and Middle Huronian of the Marquettedistrict,but
this zone is also one of easycirculation. The greenstones
are
intrusivein the iron-formation;the iron-oresrestinguponthem
are clearly concentrationssubsequentto the intrusions,and thus
to the original sedimentationof the iron-formation as a whole.
5- Iron ore appearslocally in distinct veins sometimesassociatedwith vein quartz.
6. If the foldsof the iron-formationcontainingthe ore were
'straightened
out, the ore bodieswouldbe foundto have shapes
whichcouldnot be explainedby variationsin originaldeposition,
however capricious.
7. The depositsare in part magnetite,which is believedto have
resultedfrom the partial oxidation of a ferrous salt rather than
from the deoxidation of a ferric salt, for both chemical and
field reasons.

The evidenceseemsadequateto sustainthe conclusionthat the

iron-oredepositsin their presentform are essentially


secondary
concentrates,
and that a large part of them, together with as-

62

CHARLES

KENNETH

LEITH

sociatedchertsand jaspers,have resulteddirectly from the alteration of iron carbonate

or iron silicate.

However, a factor of unknown importancein the development


of the ore depositsis the enrichmentof ferruginouschert or jasper
by leaching out of silica, as shown on pp. 54, 63. The ferruginous cherts and jaspers are themselvesknown to be mainly
secondaryto iron carbonateor iron silicate by the same evidence as given above for the ores, though 'sufficient evidence
is not now at hand to prove that all of the cherts and jaspers
have developedfrom iron carbonateor iron silicate; and thus the
possibility cannot be precluded that a part of them may be
original sedimentarydepositsin essentiallytheir present form.
Positiveevidencethat any of them are suchis yet lacking.
Weidman, in a report on the recently developedBaraboo district, has correlated the rocks with the'Middle Huronian of the
Lake Superiorregion. They are similar lithologically,and distant only two hundredmiles from the nearestLake Superiordistrict. He concludesthat the Baraboo ores are bog deposits,
which, sincetheir deposition,have been only dehydrated. His
evidence is:

I. The iron ore depositsare beddedor stratified.


2. They grade into adjacent slate, chert and dolomite with
conformable

stratification.

3. The physicalconditionsof the districtat the time the formation was depositedwere favorable for the formation of such
shallow water depositsas iron ore, as evidencedby the presence
of sun cracks and carbonaceousmaterial and rapid alternation
of the strata of the iron-formation.

4. The deformationof the formation has been subsequentto'


its deposition.

5. The changefrom limoniteto hematitewhich sucha theory


wouldpremiseis in accordwith changeswhichhaveeffectedthe
adjacent slate.

6. Analysesof mine waters and comparisonwith river and


spring waters indicatesthat the.mine waters are not now depositing iron ore.
In districts related geographically, stratigraphically, and

lithologically,
asare the Lake SuperiorandBaraboodistricts,the

GENESIS OF LAKE SUPERIOR IRON ORES

63

natural presumptionis that the manner of the origin of the ore is


commonto both, althoughthe Barabooore differs from the Lake
Superior ore in grading up into dolomite. Weidman's conclusion, therefore, is of much interest, and if sustained would lead

to the assumptionthat a considerablepart of the Lake Superior


ores not definitelyproven to be secondaryto iron carbonateor
greenalitemay have beenoriginally depositedas hydratedhematite. The writer has attemptedelsewhereto show that the evidenceavailabledoesnot satisfactorilysupportWeidman's conclusionswith referenceto the origin of the Baraboo ores, and
that until the proof is conclusivethe Baraboo district cannot be
said to present an exceptionto the Lake Superior conditions,
which are much more fully evidenced. Nevertheless,Weidman's work raisesproblems,the solutionof which may either
add to or slightlymodify the presentlyknownstoryof the genesis
of the Lake Superior iron ores.

What is therelativeimportance
o[ transportation
anddeposition
oleiron compounds
and the leachingo[ silicain concentration
of
ore? The concentrationof iron ore involvesthe transportation
and depositionof iron saltsand the removal of silica. That iron is

actuallytransportedin solutionand depositedis shownby its replacementof other substances,the former presenceof which is
recognizedby its textures, by the occurrenceof iron oxide in
veins, by the structural relationsof the iron ore to the surrounding rocks, and by laboratory experiment. That silica has been

taken out, thus enrichingthe iron-formation,i shownby the


porouscharacterof muchof the ore, by observedstagesof partial
removal, by the removal of chert and jasper pebblesin detritaI
ores,by the slumpof ore-depositlayersnearthe contactwith chertor jasper-formingwall, and by the silicacontentof mine waters.
The relative quantitative importanceof these two methodsof
concentration
is still to be determined.At presentit may be
said in generalthat where the ore developsfrom'the alteration
of ferrous compoundsof iron, a considerableamount of iron

is carried in solution and deposited;that where the ferrous

compounds
have largely disappeared
and solutionsare acting
uponthe oxidizedcompounds,
as is the casetoday in most

64

CHIRLES KENNETH LEITH

of the exposedportions of the Lake Superior iron formations,


the leaching of silica is a dominant process. In the Mesabi district, the layers of chert and jaspersmay be traced continuously
into ore with a sharp downward bend at the contact,obviously
due to removal of silica. That the slump is not greater is due
to the fact that the removal

of the silica has left the ore in a

porouscondition,fully 25 to 40% of the ore being pore space.


The measurementof the slump and pore spaceindicatesthat the
leachingof silicais adequatelocallyto explain th developmentof
the ore from the adjacentrocks.
Greenlite granules and [erruginous chert concretions. The
greenalite granules, believed to have constitutedthe bulk of the
original Mesabi iron-bearing formation, are similar in physical
and optical propertiesto glauconite or greensandbut differ in
almost lacking potash. They have been called glauconite by
Spurr, who arguesthat the absenceof potashmay be due to
secondaryalteration and that in any case the compositionof
glauconite, as thus far determined, is so variable and uncertain
as to warrant the applicationof the nameto the Mesabigranules,
so similar to glauconitein physicaland optical properties. Pro-

fessorF. W. Clarke of the U.S. GeologicalSurvey and the


writer,' with more analysesof the Mesabi granulesthan were
availableto Spurr, concluded
that the differencein composition
betweenthe Mesabigranulesand glauconitewas sufficientlycertain and fundamentalto precludecalling it glauconite,--a substancedefinedby Dana as essentiallya hydroussilicateof ferrous
oxide and potash. The writer further concludedthat the Mesabi

analyses,after correctionfor minor alterations,are essentially


thoseof a hydrousferroussilicate,corresponding
approximately
to the formula FeSiO3nH.O. The term "greenalite" was then
coined for the substance,
a to emphasizethe fact that it differs
from glauconite,regardlessof its origin.

Lesswork hasbeendoneon the origin of the greenalitethan


upon its composition. Van Hise has ascribedto it a chemical
Bull. X., Geol. and Nat. Hist. Surv. of Minn. and Am. Geol.,Vol. XXIX.
Mon. U.S. Geol. Survey No. 43, 9o3, pp. 243-7.
3Mon. 43, cit.

GENESIS OF LAKE SUPERIOR IRON ORES

65

origin similar to that of iron carbonate (see p. 5o), because


of analogy in compositionand associations,indicating a community of requisite conditions. But this does not explain the
occurrenceof the substancein granulesnor precludethe participation of organic agencies. The remarkable similarity in shape
(not in composition)to glauconiteand to part of the Clinton flaxseedgranulessuggestssomecloserelation of agenciesin determining shape. Were the origin of thesesubstances
definitelydetermined,the problemof ascertaininghow far the agenciesactive
in their developmentwere effectivein the developmentof greenalite granuleswould be a comparativelysimpleone. But a perusal
of the literature

shows that there are still doubtful

elements in

the genetichistory of glauconiteand Clinton granules. The final


determinationof the origin of the Mesabi greenalite granulesis
thus but a part of a broader study yet to be made, which shall
includeglauconiteand Clinton granulesand even certainof the
chert granules (not o61ites) found in limestones.
The unravelingof the history of the greenalitegranulesstill
further involves the study of concretionary or o61itic forms
roughly similar in shape,but differing in not being originally
homogeneousand in possessing
radial and concentricstructures.
These are found

in all of the iron-formations

of the Lake

Su-

perior region, includingthe Mesabi, though varying greatly in


abundancein the different districts. They are abundantin the
Clinton oresand inchertylimestoneformationsin general. The
o;51iteshave sometimesbeen confusedwith the homogeneous
granulesconsidered
in precedingparagraphs,but it is certainthat

they are essentially


differentin structure. Their origin is also
knownto be secondary
in manycases,but the factorsenteringinto

theirdevelopment
arestillnotquantitatively
knownandqualitatively only partly, and until they are known it will be difficultto
determineto what extent, if any, they have enteredinto the developmentof the homogeneous
granulesof the Mesabi and Clinton formations.

Issociationo[ iron-[orrna.
tion with slate. The usualconformable association

of iron-formation

with

thick

slate formations

seemsto be explainedby the fact that onerepresents


the chemically

66

CHARLES

KENNETH

LEITH

transportedportion and the other the mechanicallytransported


portionof the basicigneousrocksfrom whichthey are supposed,
for geologicaland chemicalreasons,to have beenderived. To
illustrate: The land areas were at or near baselevelduring the
depositionof the Upper Huronianiron-formation. During this
period chemicaltransportationand sedimentationof iron4ormation materials preponderated. Uplift rejuvenatedthe streams,
and the residualland surface,consistinglargely of clayey products, was mechanicallytransportedand depositedas a mud formation abovethe iron formation. The averagedcompositionof
the original iron-formationand slate,taking relative massesinto
account,seemsto approximateroughly that of the original igne.ousrocksfrom which derived. Further accurateaverages
x of
compositionand quantitativedeterminationof the many factors
entering into the calculationare neededas a basis for a satisactory
proof of this relation.

General.
It seems
probable
thatmost
oftheprincipal
factors

enteringinto the development


of the Lake Superioriron-oresand
iron-bearingserieshave beennoted and their relative importance
approximately determined. The most important work remaining to be done is the accuratedeterminationof their quantitative importance.
X"A Geologic and Physiographic Sketch of the Animikie Iron-Bearing
District, Ontario,'l by R. C. Allen. Unpublished thesis. Geological Department, Univ. of Wis., I9o5.