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©2010 Society of Economic Geologists, Inc.

Economic Geology, v. 105, pp. 627–639

Formation of Sedimentary Rock-Hosted Stratiform Copper Deposits

through Earth History
1 Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado 80401
2 Centre for Ore Deposit Research, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania Australia 7000

Sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper deposits form by movement of oxidized, copper-bearing fluids
across a reduction front that results in the precipitation of copper sulfides. Large-scale production of such
oxidized fluids, as well as the formation of mobile hydrocarbons (oil) has probably been common since the for-
mation of the first red beds in the Paleoproterozoic, and deposits of this type occur in rocks from the Paleo-
proterozoic to the Tertiary. However, supergiant deposits are currently recognized in only three basins: the
Paleoproterozoic Kodaro-Udokan basin of Siberia, the Neoproterozoic Katangan basin of south-central Africa,
and the Permian Zechstein basin of northern Europe. The paucity of data regarding the Udokan deposit makes
understanding this system difficult in terms of Earth history events. Both the Neoproterozoic and the Permian
were times of supercontinent breakup with major landmasses at low latitudes. This global tectonic framework
favored the formation of failed rifts that subsequently became significant intracratonic basins with basal, syn-
rift red-bed sequences overlain by marine and/or lacustrine sediments and, in some basins located at low
latitudes, by thick evaporitic strata. The intracratonic setting of these basins allowed the development of a
hydrologically closed basinal architecture in which highly oxidized and saline, moderate-temperature basinal
brines were produced that were capable of supplying reduction-controlled sulfide precipitation over very long
time periods (tens to hundreds of millions of years). The length of time available for the mineralizing process
may be the key factor necessary to form supergiant deposits. However, examination of the absolute ages for the
Kupferschiefer (Zechstein basin) and Katangan deposits allows speculation that other factors may also have
been important. Both the Neoproterozoic and Permian were times of major glacial events. Glaciation may also
be conducive for the formation of supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits. Glacial periods
correspond to magnesium- and sulfate-rich oceans that could have been responsible for additional sulfur in
basinal brines developed during evaporite formation and would then be available during the long mineraliza-
tion process.

Introduction reviewed the evolution of genetic hypotheses for these de-

PRECIPITATION of copper sulfides from moderate-tempera- posits. Geologic and economic data for these deposits have
ture, moderate- to high-salinity, oxidized fluids at oxidation- been compiled by Mosier et al. (1986), Kirkham (1989),
reduction interfaces has been common since the Paleopro- Kirkham et al. (1994), Cox et al. (2003), and Hitzman et al.
terozoic. The largest known deposits occur within sedimentary (2005).
basins, generally at the contact between subaerial red-bed se- While the vast majority of sedimentary rock-hosted strati-
quences and overlying marine or lacustrine shales, siltstones, form copper mineralizing systems produce small, mostly
sandstones, or carbonate rocks. Deposits in such settings have subeconomic occurrences, three basins contain supergiant
been termed sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits deposits (largest 1% of deposits, >24 Mt contained Cu;
(Kirkham, 1989) or sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform cop- Singer, 1995): the Paleoproterozoic Kodaro-Udokan basin of
per deposits (Cathles and Adams, 2005). Siberia (Udokan: Volodin et al., 1994), the Neoproterozoic
Sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper deposits consist Katangan basin (Central African Copperbelt: Selley et al.,
of relatively thin (generally <30 m and commonly <3 m) sul- 2005), and the Permian Zechstein basin of Europe (Kupfer-
fide-bearing zones that are peneconcordant with lithologic schiefer: Vaughan et al., 1989; Kucha, 2003) (Fig. 1). These
layering. The deposits occur in a variety of sedimentary rock and three other basins, the Mesoproterozoic Keweenaw basin
types with a variety of reductants. The configuration of the of the Mid-Continent Rift of the USA (White Pine: Brown,
mineralized zone ranges from sheetlike, with extensive hori- 1971; White, 1971; Mauk et al., 1992), a Neoproterozoic-
zontal dimensions, to tabular or roll-front geometries, with Cambrian basin in Afghanistan (Aynak: Abdullah et al., 1977,
limited horizontal dimensions (Kirkham, 1989). Ludington et al., 2007), and the Devonian to Carboniferous
Sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper deposits were Chu-Sarysu basin of Kazakhstan (Dzhezkazgan deposits:
described by Gustafson and Williams (1981) in Economic Ge- Lur’ye and Gablina, 1978; Gablina, 1981, 1997), contain giant
ology 75th Anniversary Volume and by Hitzman et al. (2005) deposits (largest 10% of deposits, >2 Mt contained Cu;
in Economic Geology 100th Anniversary Volume. Boyle et al. Singer, 1995).
(1989) compiled work conducted through the 1970s and The temporal distribution of basins containing giant and su-
1980s in the Geological Association of Canada volume entitled pergiant sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper deposits
Sediment-hosted Stratiform Copper Deposits. Jowett (1991) is clearly nonrandom. This deposit type only occurs after oxy-
genation of the atmosphere in the early Paleoproterozoic
† Corresponding author: e-mail, (Knoll and Holland, 1995; Holland, 2005a, 2006). A plot of
Submitted: August 11, 2009
0361-0128/10/3890/627-13 627 Accepted: September 11, 2009

Redstone Udokan
Lake White Kupferschiefer
Pine Dzhezkazgan
Basin Creta, Aynak


FIG. 1. Map of the world showing the location of the sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper districts and deposits
mentioned in the text.

copper metal contained in these deposits versus age of host riod of mineralization, makes temporal definition of these de-
rock (Fig. 2) shows distinct spikes in the Neoproterozoic and posits difficult.
the Permian. The Udokan deposits represent a spike in the The temporal spike in the Neoproterozoic is primarily due
Paleoproterozoic, although the relatively poor age constraints to the Katangan basin deposits, with a contribution from the
of the host rocks, and even poorer age constraints for the pe- Aynak deposits of Afghanistan and a lesser contribution from

Kupf CACB ( Aynak, Red)





Dzh Udokan

0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500
T K J Tr C D O C Neoprot Mesopr ot Paleoprot

Geological Time ( Ma) and Period

FIG. 2. Contained tons of copper for sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits by age of the host rocks. Whereas host-
rock ages are relatively well constrained for the Mesoproterozoic to Tertiary, significant uncertainties exist for the exact ages
of host rocks for deposits in the Paleoproterozoic sequences. Data is taken from Hitzman et al. (2005). Kupferschiefer
(Kupf), Dzhezkazgan (Dzh), Redstone (Red), Central African Copperbelt (CACB), White Pine/Presque Isle (WP/PI), Revett
deposits (Rev).

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the Redstone deposit of northern Canada (Chartrand et al., 1992), exact fluid compositions in terms of metal and sulfur
1989). The spike in the Permian is almost entirely caused by contents are not known due to a lack of fluid inclusion data
the Kupferschiefer deposits of Europe, although a number of (Hitzman et al., 2005). This lack of data is the result of the ab-
much smaller deposits of Permian age, such as Creta and sence of suitable coarse minerals, containing workable fluid
Magnum (Hagni and Gann, 1976; Johnson, 1976; Smith, inclusions, intergrown with sulfides in the vast majority of
1976), are recognized in North America. Good age control for deposits.
both host rocks and the duration of mineralization in the Ke- A wide variety of basin architectures and processes can lead
weenaw, Katangan, and Zechstein basins allows analysis of to the formation of sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform cop-
specific Earth history events that may be important for the per deposits (Hitzman et al., 2005). However, supergiant de-
genesis of post-Paleoproterozoic giant and supergiant exam- posits must have formed in basins with unique conditions that
ples of this deposit type. Utilization of these concepts sug- allowed for the accumulation of large amounts of metal-bear-
gests that the older Udokan ores may define similar geologic ing fluid, sufficient reduced sulfur, large amounts of reduc-
events. tants, and focusing of fluid movement into relatively small
areas. The key to forming the required basin architecture is
Basin Architecture of the Sedimentary Rock-Hosted deposition of a specific sedimentary sequence within an in-
Stratiform Copper Deposits tracratonic basin that becomes hydrologically closed (Hitz-
Sedimentary rock-hosted stratiform copper deposits are the man et al., 2005).
products of evolving basin-scale, or at least sub-basin-scale, The general stratigraphic sequence observed in productive
fluid flow systems. Similar to all ore systems, these deposits basins for both giant and supergiant deposits is a basal se-
can be thought of as the end products of processes involving quence of synrift red beds, often with mafic or bimodal vol-
a source(s) of metal and sulfur, a source(s) of metal-trans- canic rocks, that serve as a source for rock-buffered oxidized
porting fluid, transport paths, possible mobile reductants, a fluids, as well as a potential source for metals, particularly
thermal or hydraulic pump, and the chemical and physical copper (Fig. 3). This oxidized sedimentary package is overlain
factors that result in precipitation (“trapping”) of the sulfides. by marine to lacustrine sediments deposited during rift cli-
Whereas the general nature of the ore fluids responsible for max and postrift phases of sedimentation that contain, or can
the formation of these deposits is clear (Rose, 1976; Brown, generate through burial, areally extensive zones with large

stratiform copper Sandstones, siltstones,
deposits and shales


Red beds
Bimodal volcanic
METAL rocks
FIG. 3. Schematic cross section across an intracratonic, hydrologically closed basin that is typical of those hosting giant
and supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits. Synrift red beds and minor bimodal volcanic rocks floor the
basin. Marine sandstones, siltstones, and shales, which may locally be organic rich, transgressively overlie this red-bed se-
quence. This siliciclastic sequence grades upward into marine carbonates that contain a thick evaporite sequence. In most
productive basins, the evaporites contain significant halite and may have evolved to magnesium and potassium salts. The
upper portion of the basin contains shallow marine to continental siliciclastic sediments. The total thickness of the sedimen-
tary sequence may range from several to more than 10 km.
The sediment-hosted stratiform copper system consists of residual brines or brines from evaporite dissolution that move
downward into the basal, oxidized red-bed sequence. Heat from burial and, in some cases, high heat flow and/or igneous ac-
tivity initiate convection of these highly saline brines, which are capable of leaching metals from both the red-bed sediments
and the basement. Oxidized, metal-rich brines circulate upward to the top of the red-bed sequence, where they encounter
organic-rich sediments that provide the reductants necessary to precipitate copper sulfides. Fluids may also utilize fault ar-
chitecture within the basin to escape to higher levels and precipitate sulfides when they encounter significant zones of either
in situ or mobile (natural gas, petroleum) reductants. The evaporite beds provide an effective top seal to the hydrologic sys-
tem, whereas the basin edges themselves provide lateral containment.

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amounts of contained reductant. The reductant can be either copper and other metals. Red beds first appeared near the
in situ organic matter or hydrocarbons that have migrated Archean-Paleoproterozoic boundary, coincident with the oxy-
within the basin. These reduced facies can have large lateral genation of the atmosphere (Knoll and Holland, 1995; Holland
extents allowing for the formation of supergiant deposits with 2005a, 2006). In addition, reductants within the rock mass
great strike extent. stratigraphically above the synrift sequence are necessary to
In the Katangan and Zechstein basins, evaporitic conditions form the chemical trap that allows copper sulfides to precipi-
were initiated during the rift-climax phase and persisted tate. These could be either in situ reductants or reduced mate-
throughout the subsequent postrift phase of marine and/or la- rial that has also migrated into the trap area. The latter com-
custrine carbonate sedimentation. Thick, laterally persistent monly may be hydrogen sulfide, probably with petroleum
evaporite strata play a key hydrologic role as effective seals to and/or natural gas, as has been recognized in Dzhezkazgan,
underlying rift-related permeable units. Equally significant, parts of the Zambian Copperbelt, and the Kupferschiefer. The
dense residual brines, generated during precipitation of evap- capacity to produce major amounts of mobile hydrocarbons ca-
oritic sediments, sink and may ultimately convect through, in pable of forming such chemical traps was apparently first gen-
some instances, enormous metal reservoirs within the rift-re- erated in the early Paleoproterozoic (Melezhik et al., 1999a, b).
lated sediments and potentially the basement (Fig. 3). Cap- Whereas significant sediment-hosted stratiform copper de-
ping carbonate or clastic sequences, such as the Nonesuch posits are recognized in the Paleoproterozoic (e.g., Udokan
Shale at White Pine, can provide hydrologic seals sufficient to deposits), absolute ages of the sequences hosting these de-
form giant deposits. posits are poorly constrained between 2200 and 1800 Ma
Major sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits form (Abramov, 2008). In the Mesoproterozoic, the age of the
when the evolved basinal fluids leach significant amounts of Revett Formation, which hosts deposits such as Spar Lake in
copper and other metals from the basal synrift sediments and the northwestern United States, is constrained by underlying
volcanic rocks, and possibly from structurally controlled fluid 1468 Ma lower Belt sequence (Anderson and Davis, 1995)
pathways within the upper portions of the basement, and and the overlying 1454 Ma carbonate sequence (Evans et al.,
move upward toward a hydrologic seal to intersect oxidation- 2000). The absolute age of host rocks for the Mesoproterozoic
reduction interfaces in marine and/or lacustrine sediments. deposits in the White Pine district, Unites States, is approxi-
In both the Katangan and Kupferschiefer basins, there is mately 1080 Ma (Davis and Paces, 1990).
evidence of long periods (hundreds of millions of years) of The Redstone, Canada, and Aynak, Afghanistan, deposits
mineralization that suggests enormous volumes of fluids were are Neoproterozoic age. The Redstone deposit host rocks are
involved. Thus, to produce the supergiant deposits, it is nec- <720 Ma (Chartrand et al., 1989), whereas the Aynak deposit
essary either to have large volumes of fluids introduced into a is hosted in rocks that are thought to be latest Neoproterozoic
basin over time or to recycle fluids through convective flow. (Ludington et al., 2007). The age of the Katangan host rocks
Fluid flow of both types is recognized geologically (Cathles for the Central African Copperbelt ores is between 880 and
and Adams, 2005). In both the Katangan and Kupferschiefer 735 Ma based on a variety of geochronologic techniques (Sel-
intracratonic basins, it appears most likely that the basin ar- ley et al., 2005). More recent detrital zircon studies suggest an
chitecture was relatively hydrologically closed and that basi- age between 840 and 790 Ma (Selley, unpub. data).
nal fluids circulated through the systems over a protracted pe- In the Paleozoic, ages for rocks hosting sediment-hosted
riod. Smaller, but still significant deposits, such as the giant stratiform copper deposits are generally well known. The
White Pine-Presque Isle system in the United States (~400 Dzhezkazgan deposit in Kazakhstan occurs in middle Car-
Mt of 1.1% Cu; Hitzman et al., 2005), formed primarily from boniferous rocks. The age of the host rocks for the Kupfer-
a temporally limited, single pass, mechanical loading-driven schiefer deposits are well constrained by fossil evidence to
compaction hydrologic system (Swenson et al., 2004). ~255 Ma.
In many sediment-hosted stratiform copper systems, and
particularly well illustrated in the Zechstein, Katangan, and Mineralization Ages
Keweenaw basins, ore-grade mineralization is best developed Despite general agreement that sulfides postdate sedimen-
along basin margins adjacent to basement highs where the tation (Jowett, 1991), the absolute age of mineralization rela-
basal red beds are relatively thin or pinch out (Jowett, 1986; tive to sedimentation has been difficult to document in many
Selley et al., 2005). From a hydrological perspective, these sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits and districts.
are sites where basinal brines are overpressured (Cathles and Mineralization may take place relatively early in the diage-
Adams, 2005), and where fluid flow is concentrated and netic history of the host sediments (e.g., White Pine/Presque
forced to interact with the overlying reduced strata (Swenson Isle: Mauk, 1993; Ohr, 1993; Redstone deposit: Chartrand
et al., 2004). and Brown, 1985; Chartrand et al., 1989; Lustwerk and
Wasserman, 1989; Creta, Magnum deposits, United States:
Host Rock Ages Hagni and Gann, 1976; Johnson, 1976; Smith, 1976) or range
Sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits are recognized to very late diagenesis or postdiagenesis (e.g., Zambian Cop-
from the middle Paleoproterozoic (e.g., Udokan, Russia: perbelt: Selley et al., 2005; Kupferschiefer: Vaughan et al.,
Volodin et al., 1994) to the Tertiary (e.g., Corocoro, Bolivia: 1989; Paradox basin, United States: Thorson, 2004). Mineral-
Flint, 1989, Ljunggren and Meyer, 1964; Fig. 2). A key com- ization in these systems can thus occur from early diagenesis
ponent for the formation of this deposit type is the presence of to times of basin inversion and metamorphism.
oxidized rock masses, generally composed of red beds, capable Textural and sulfur isotope studies in some Permian de-
of buffering basinal fluids to an oxidized state and providing posits, such as those of the shale-hosted portion of the

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Kupferschiefer district (Schneiderhöhn, 1923; Sawłowicz, Zambian Copperbelt are characteristic of sour gas, a reducing
1992) and those in the Flowerpot Shale of Oklahoma and agent unlikely to have been generated in significant volumes
Texas (Lockwood, 1972; Hagni and Gann, 1976; Johnson, until latest diagenesis (Selley et al., 2005).
1976; Smith, 1976), suggest that at least some copper-bearing There is geochronologic evidence that sulfide precipitation
sulfide was precipitated in the shallow subsurface by bacter- occurred over a highly protracted period from early diagene-
ial sulfate reduction. Larger deposits, however, display sul- sis through basin inversion and deformation (Hitzman et al.,
fide-nonsulfide mineral textures suggesting that significant 2005) in several basins. Such a period could be in excess of
sulfide precipitation ranged from early to late diagenesis (e.g., 100 m.y.
Kupferschiefer: Kucha, 1981; Oszczepalski, 1989; Spar Lake: The Mesoproterozoic White Pine/Presque Isle deposits
Hayes and Einaudi, 1986). Sulfides at the Mesoproterozoic show multiple sulfide ages (Fig. 4), with the major mineral-
White Pine deposit have sulfur isotope compositions, sug- ization event having taken place during active rifting and early
gesting that some sulfides were early diagenetic and that later diagenesis (Mauk, 1993). A more structurally controlled
sulfide precipitation involved abiotic sulfate reduction (Hoy event, due to basin inversion and compression, resulted in
and Ohmoto, 1989). The Neoproterozoic Zambian Copper- minor additional copper precipitation 20 to 30 m.y. later
belt deposits contain hypogene sulfides that were recrystal- (Bornhorst et al., 1988; Ohr, 1993).
lized at middle to upper greenschist metamorphic facies con- The Re-Os geochronology in the Neoproterozoic Central
ditions and are thus equivocal indicators of the timing of the African Copperbelt also supports a protracted period of min-
original mineralization. Evidence for the replacement of for- eralization (Fig. 4). Some sulfide precipitation has been doc-
mer hydrocarbon accumulations in several arenite-hosted umented relatively soon after host-rock deposition. An 815
Zambian deposits provides at least a late diagenetic age con- Ma mineralization age is reported for copper sulfides in the
straint for some portion of the ores (Selley et al., 2005). The stratigraphic hanging wall of the Konkola deposit compared
wide range of sulfur isotope compositions of sulfides in the to a host rock age of approximately ~840 Ma (Barra et al.,
Zambian deposits (Dechow and Jensen, 1965; McGowan et 2004). However, Re-Os sulfide geochronology more com-
al., 2003; Selley et al., 2005) suggests a complex, multistage monly records multiple periods of sulfide growth that took
history of sulfide precipitation. In fact, Gustafson and Williams place during very mature stages of basin development. Data
(1981) argued that such complex sulfur isotope signatures are from stratiform ores of the Nkana-Mindola, Chibuluma West,
characteristic of this deposit type. The anomalously heavy sul- and Nchanga deposits indicate sulfide growth at ~ 576 Ma, a
fur isotope compositions of several arenite-hosted ores of the period that corresponds with the earliest stages of basin


Cu, millions of t onnes





0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500
T K J Tr C D O C Neoprot Mesoprot Paleoprot

Geological Time ( Ma) and Period

FIG. 4. Contained copper for sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits by age of host rocks (gray); red curves schemat-
ically illustrate the probable ages of sulfide precipitation in the major districts. Mineralization in the Central African Cop-
perbelt (CACB) and the Kupferschiefer (Kupf) extends to significantly younger ages (>100 m.y.) than the host rock, whereas
the age of mineralization in the White Pine/Presque Isle (WI/PI) system is early relative to host-rock age. Host-rock age and
tonnage data are taken from Hitzman et al. (2005). Mineralization age data is mainly from Kulig et al. (1994), Michalik
(1997), Bechtel et al. (1999), Swenson et al. (2004), and Selley et al. (2005).

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inversion (Selley et al., 2005). Subsequent postpeak-meta- linear structural zones. Potentially productive host rock se-
morphic, fracture-hosted, Cu-Mo-U mineralization occurred quences and geometric configurations are commonly found
at the Kansanshi deposit at ~512 to 502 Ma (Torrealday et al., in rift basins.
2000), whereas a postorogenic extensional phase of mineral- Supercontinent breakup is ideal for producing rift basins
ization at ~450 Ma is recorded by the breccia-related Cu-Zn- within continental masses that may have had a connection to
Ga ores of Kipushi (Schneider et al., 2007). Uranium-Pb world oceans, but which did not evolve into passive margin
geochronology of uraninite, a phase intimately associated basins. Passive margin basins are inherently leaky with dense
with, but commonly postdating, stratiform copper mineraliza- fluids able to migrate seaward out of the sedimentary pile and
tion in the Central African Copperbelt, also reveals a pro- seawater able to infiltrate the basinal sediments thus diluting
tracted history of fluid flow, with ages between 670 and 503 the basinal brines (Fig. 5A). Large, sediment-hosted strati-
Ma (Darnley et al., 1961; Cahen et al., 1971, 1984; Meneghel, form copper deposits appear to be most likely to form in in-
1981; Richards et al., 1988; Loris et al., 1997). tracratonic basins that are capable of containing moderate- to
Abundant evidence also exists for protracted sulfide pre- high-salinity basinal fluids for long time periods without sig-
cipitation in the Permian Kupferschiefer (Jowett, 1992; Large nificant leakage or dilution (Fig. 5B). Both the Katangan and
et al., 1995; Michalik and Sawłowicz, 2001; Fig. 4). Potas- Zechstein basins formed in an intracratonic, rather than a
sium-Ar dating in the Kupferschiefer and underlying passive margin, setting.
Weissliegendes sandstones suggests that authigenic illites as- Strakov (1962) and Kirkham (1989) noted that most sedi-
sociated with mineralization formed over a broad time range, ment-hosted stratiform copper deposits occur in sedimentary
from early diagenesis to synorogenic Alpine uplift and inver- rocks that were deposited within 20° to 30° of the paleoequa-
sion (Kulig et al., 1994; Michalik, 1997; Bechtel et al., 1999). tor. Continental areas in such low latitudes are amenable to
The relative amounts of sulfides precipitated throughout the having a desert environment, and rift basins produced by con-
long time intervals of mineralization in the sediment-hosted tinent breakup in such settings typically have basal sequences
stratiform copper deposits remains speculative. At White composed of red beds. Overlying marine or lacustrine se-
Pine, late sulfides appear to represent a very small fraction of quences are likely to include a significant proportion of evap-
the total ore. Textural evidence in the Kupferschiefer indi- oritic strata that are common in many, but not all, basins con-
cates that much of the sulfide was deposited relatively early, taining these types of deposits (e.g., Kirkham 1989, 2001).
although sulfide precipitation clearly continued, perhaps spo- Evaporite deposition is important for the geohydrology of
radically, over an extended period with a probable spike in sediment-hosted stratiform copper systems because it allows
mineralization intensity during Alpine orogeny. In the Cen- for the formation of dense, high-salinity residual brines that
tral African Copperbelt, geochronologic constraints, coupled can sink into the lower portion of the sedimentary sequence
with the need to have generated and mobilized significant (Hitzman et al., 2005). These dense brines, once present, are
volumes of hydrocarbon and/or sour gas, suggest that much of capable of leaching metals from the basal, oxidized red-bed
the classical stratiform mineralization was likely to have been sequence. The evaporites themselves are important in estab-
formed late in the basin’s history. Postpeak metamorphic cop- lishing a regional aquiclude, or seal, within the basin stratig-
per mineralization typically forms a relatively minor compo- raphy and allowing for the possibility of establishing a long-
nent of sediment-hosted stratiform ores, but in the cases of lasting intrabasinal fluid reservoir within which convective
Kansanshi (Broughton et al., 2002) and Kipushi (Intiomale cells can develop (Hitzman et al., 2005). Rupturing of the
and Oosterbosch, 1974) forms large economic orebodies. evaporite seal during basin-inversion–driven halokinesis may
The combination of textural, isotopic, and geochronologic allow upward escape of potentially mineralizing basinal brines
data provides compelling evidence that the mineralization to higher stratigraphic levels, where they could interact with
processes responsible for the formation of sediment-hosted zones containing reductants and cause cross-stratal sulfide
stratiform copper deposit systems may occur from near the precipitation, such as occurred at the Kansanshi and other de-
time of sediment deposition to late in a basin’s history (Fig. 4). posits in the Central African Copperbelt (Hitzman et al.,
Significant deposits, such as White Pine, can form from sin- 2005).
gle-pass, mechanical load-driven compaction (Swenson et al., The area of present-day Europe best illustrates the tectonic
2004). However, the evidence indicates that two of the basins configuration required to form an intracratonic basin suitable
containing supergiant deposits underwent very prolonged pe- for the generation of large sediment-hosted stratiform copper
riods of mineralization (>100 m.y.), which suggests that con- deposits during the Late Permian (Fig. 6). During this period,
vection must have been established to recycle mineralizing northern Europe occupied the southern margin of the
fluids. This implies that these basins were relatively tectoni- Pangean continent and was located at low latitudes (Fig. 6A).
cally quiescent for long periods. Incipient rifting, to north of the Tethys Ocean, led to the for-
mation of several major intracratonic basins likely intermit-
Critical Factors for the Formation of tently connected through narrow rift basins to the Tethys
Sediment-Hosted Stratiform Copper Deposits Ocean to the south and the Panthalassic Ocean to the north
Sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits require oxi- (Fig. 6B). Progressive filling of the Zechstein basin began
dized metal source beds (red beds), reduced facies to serve as with deposition of synrift siliciclastic and volcanic rocks.
metal traps, and saline brines capable of leaching and carry- These were later transgressed by marine-derived sediments,
ing metals. To form significant deposits, mineralizing fluids including the organic-rich, marine Kupferschiefer Formation
must be confined within the red beds and expelled through immediately overlying the red beds, and subsequent Zech-
relatively focused zones, often in areas of stratal pinch out or stein carbonate and evaporite sediments, setting the favorable

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siltstones BASINAL FLUID
Sandstones, siltstones,
and shales

Evaporites Carbonates

Deep water
Basement Red beds


Sandstones, siltstones,
and shales




Red beds


FIG. 5. Schematic cross sections of sedimentary basins. A. Cross section of a passive margin basin with a thin rift sequence
overlain by continental siliciclastic sediments (sandstones and siltstones) that grade seaward into evaporates and then car-
bonates. The carbonate sediments prograde seaward and overlap deeper water carbonates. This carbonate-rich sequence is
covered by deltaic to slope basin siliciclastic sediments (sandstones, siltstones, and shales). Basinal fluids in this system are
able to escape from the sedimentary sequence vertically and laterally. B. Cross section of an intracratonic rift basin with a
basal red-bed sequence and overlying siliciclastic, carbonate, and evaporite sediments. Basinal fluids in this system are
trapped by confining basement and lateral sediment pinch-outs.

stratigraphy for sediment-hosted stratiform copper mineral- through both mechanical loading and differential heat input,
ization. The Zechstein basin underwent progressive sag phase and later due to basin inversion associated with the Alpine
deposition into the Mesozoic, with basin inversion during the orogeny.
Alpine orogeny at ~120 Ma; mineralization appears to have
occurred throughout this >100-m.y. period. Unlike the White Formation of Supergiant Deposits—
Pine system, where Swenson et al. (2004) were unable to Unique Attributes of the Permian and Neoproterozoic
demonstrate convection, geologic evidence in the Kupfer- The available evidence suggests that for at least two of the
schiefer suggests that convection cells were established in supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform copper districts (Kupfer-
basal red-bed−filled depocenters (Jowett, 1986), perhaps schiefer and Katangan basins) a unique attribute is the lengthy

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general area
of ice cap

Panthalassic continental

Land Ocean carb sediments

periodic a


ingression of tfo

marine water rm
to basin continental
margin shelf

ingression of
Land continental marine water
(red bed) German, Polish
to basin
districts he
Sahara Platform in s
ma rg
e nta
a te tin
1000 km a r bon rm con Tethys
c tfo ocean floor

FIG. 6. Paleoreconstructions for the Late Permian (~255 Ma). A. World view showing the location of present-day Europe,
just north of the equator and on the southern edge of the Pangean continent. Gray areas indicate areas of land. The thick
black lines are subduction zones. The pink oval represents the approximate location of the Zechstein basin. The figure is
modified from Scotese (2004). B. Paleogeographic map showing the location of the intracontinental Zechstein basin, to the
northwest of the Tethys Ocean, and the outlines of present-day continental areas. The Zechstein basin is the largest of a num-
ber of rift basins formed in the area of the present-day North Atlantic and Western Europe. The Zechstein basin had inter-
mittent connection with both the Tethys Ocean to the southeast and to the Panthalassic Ocean to the north through rift
troughs. This intermittent influx of marine water, combined with the location near the equator, allowed for the development
of a significant thickness of evaporites within the basin. The locations of the two major known areas of Kupferschiefer min-
eral deposits in Germany and Poland, along the southwestern edge of the basin, are illustrated. This figure is modified from
Ziegler (1982, 1988).

time span of mineralization compared with districts contain- deposits, but it nevertheless does not appear that sediment-
ing smaller deposits. Is time the only critical factor for gener- hosted stratiform copper deposit form at times of maximum
ation of supergiant deposits? Are there other features related evaporite deposition.
to the age of the Kupferschiefer and Katangan basins that The late Neoproterozoic and the Permian were both times
could be important for the generation of such large deposits? of supercontinent breakup and evaporite deposition. They
Whereas evaporites are undoubtedly important for the gen- were also periods during which major glacial events occurred
eration of supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform copper de- (Fig. 7). The triggers for these glacial events remain poorly
posits, there is a poor correlation between the age of host known, although eruption of large amounts of subaerial
rocks for the deposits and the amount of preserved halite in basalt at low latitudes has been implicated (Goddéris et al.,
the geologic record (Knauth, 2004; Hay et al., 2006; Fig. 7). 2003), along with differences in sensitivity of the carbon
Evaporites are a key feature of the basins hosting supergiant cycle to loss of shallow-water environments and resulting

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Ice Ages

m(Mg+2 ) i/ m(Ca+2 ) i in ocean water

200 8
Preserved halite
Cu, millions of t onnes

150 6

? 4

50 2
aragonit e sea
calcit e sea

0 500 1000
Tert Cret Jur Tr P Carb Dev S Ord C Neoproterozoic Mesoproterozoic

Geological Time (Ma) and Period

FIG. 7. Correlation of the ages of host rocks and mineralization for sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits (1100
Ma–present), as well as the ages of major glacial events (in blue; Eyles and Young, 1994), ages of preserved halite accumu-
lations (in yellow) [modified from fig. 2 of Knauth (2004) and including data compiled by Hay et al. (2006) and evidence for
significant ~750–800 Ma evaporites in the Katangan and Central Australian basins (e.g., Lindsay, 2002; Jackson et al., 2003)],
and variation in seawater chemistry as portrayed by the m(Mg2+)i/m(Ca2+)i ratio (purple dashed line). The seawater chem-
istry data during the Phanerozoic are based on analyses of fluid inclusions in halite (Horita et al., 2002) and from before 500
Ma, they are based on the results of Hardie (2003). The horizontal line at the ratio of approximately 1.5 shows the break be-
tween the aragonite (>1.2) and calcite (<1.2) seas of Sandberg (1985).
The plot illustrates temporal correlations between periods of major sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits and ice
ages and Mg2+-rich, and therefore sulfate-rich seawater. There appears to be little correlation of mineralization ages with
periods of increased halite precipitation. Note that the much smaller White Pine system does not appear to correlate with
ice ages.

carbon dioxide-climate feedback for the Proterozoic (Ridg- more active salt tectonics, may have been sufficient to provide
well et al., 2003). Oscillations of cosmic-ray flux to the Earth the mechanical energy required to initiate or sustain convec-
have also been proposed as a driving mechanism for the tion within the basal portions of the Katangan basin.
Earth’s icehouse-greenhouse cycles (Schlager, 2005). Major Whereas the Permian Zechstein basin also formed subse-
worldwide glacial events have the potential to significantly quent to a major glacial event, it was located far from major
alter ocean and atmospheric chemistry (Crowell, 1999; Hoff- ice caps (Fig. 6A). It is unlikely that glacial melting would
man and Schrag, 2002), which can lead to changes in weath- have led to increased sedimentation rates in this case, al-
ering patterns and thus sedimentation rates. though Molnar (2004) speculated that periods of unstable cli-
Whether or not the Earth experienced a “snowball earth” mate, such as those associated with the transition between
event (Hoffman and Schrag, 2002) is still being vigorously de- glacial periods, could lead to generally increased sedimenta-
bated (Jenkins et al., 2004), but it is clear that the Neopro- tion distant from glacially affected areas.
terozoic was a time of widespread glaciation with ice caps ap- Plotting the distribution of sediment-hosted stratiform cop-
parently extending into low latitudes (Fairchild and Kennedy, per deposits (both host rock and mineralization ages) from
2007). Melting of both Sturtian and Marinoan ice sheets in 1100 Ma to present against the times of known ice ages pre-
the region of the Katangan basin would have lead to increased served halite distribution, and ocean chemistry (portrayed
sedimentation rates, similar to those documented during the utilizing the ratio of Mg2+ to Ca2+) suggests potentially signif-
Pleistocene (Droxler and Schlager, 1985; Marshall and icant correlations that might be considered to better under-
Clarke, 1999). Increased sedimentation into the basin during stand the generation of supergiant deposits (Fig. 7). For both
the postrift and sag phases could have driven increased com- the Kupferschiefer and Katangan districts, there is a general
paction and perhaps initiated or accelerated salt tectonics, temporal association with a relative increase in the magne-
analogous to events that are thought to have occurred in the sium content of seawater. Sulfate abundance in seawater
Gulf of Mexico during the Pleistocene (Shaffer and Lowrie, tracks that of magnesium through time (Horita et al., 2002).
1985). Rapid increased sediment loading, combined with Because the Mg/Ca ratio in the oceans increases with the

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precipitation of gypsum, the positive correlation of magne- Post-Archean periods of supercontinent breakup have the
sium and sulfate abundances in seawater through time must greatest potential to form basins that are conducive for the
be due to an increase in the total amounts of either calcium production of sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits.
or sulfate in the ocean. An increase in calcium could be due Synrift basins formed during such periods need to be located
to reactions that promote the exchange of magnesium for cal- in low latitudes to facilitate evaporite formation. Thus, explo-
cium. This could include an increase in the rate of seawater ration should target periods of Earth history that had suitable
cycling through hot basalt at midocean ridges (Spencer and plate tectonic configurations. Such configurations are known
Hardie, 1990; Hardie, 1996, 2003) or an increase in the rate in the Permian and Neoproterozoic. Although such condi-
of dolomite formation (Holland and Zimmermann, 2000; tions undoubtedly existed earlier in the Proterozoic, our cur-
Holland, 2005b). Variations in seawater sulfate could be due rent ability to accurately reconstruct plate configurations for
to changes in the rate of burial and weathering of gypsum ver- this period is limited. Nonetheless, reconnaissance geologic
sus pyrite (Berner, 2004). studies to confirm the existence of sedimentary basins with
Higher Mg2+ concentrations occur during low sea-level significant basal oxidized clastic sedimentary sequences (typ-
stands (Horita et al., 2002). Most workers consider that ically red beds), with overlying strata that include discrete in
changes in seawater chemistry are driven primarily by situ reduced layers or the potential to generate and trap mo-
changes in the flux of seawater through the midocean ridges bile hydrocarbons, and an upper thick evaporite cap (that may
(Spencer and Hardie, 1990; Hardie, 1996, 2003) or coupled often have disappeared from the geologic record) are needed
tectonic and biogenic processes (Holland and Zimmermann, to evaluate the potential for this deposit type.
2000; Berner, 2004; Holland, 2005b). However, world climate These criteria indicate that further supergiant deposits
may also be a fundamental driver for seawater composition. should be found in Permian or Neoproterozoic basins. The
Seawater chemistry could be important for the formation of Zechstein basin is the largest known basin containing all of
supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits. In the favorable ingredients in the Permian. Continued explo-
particular, sulfate-rich seawater may increase the amount of ration of covered areas in this basin is certainly warranted.
total sulfur that can be fixed in basinal sediments as sulfate or The Neoproterozoic breakup of Rodinia resulted in the for-
sulfide and, therefore, that is available for eventual incorpo- mation of a number of small- to moderate-sized rift basins
ration into copper sulfides. High seawater sulfate levels in that may have the favorable stratigraphic architecture. Thus,
magnesium-rich oceans should also increase the relative in addition to continued exploration in the highly productive
amount of sulfur in residual evaporative brines (Lowenstein Katangan basin, exploration should concentrate on covered or
et al., 2001). Although mechanisms are unclear, increased poorly explored areas that may contain hydrologically closed
amounts of sulfur in residual brines may be critical for the basins of this age.
formation of supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform copper The late Paleoproterozoic through early Neoproterozoic
deposits, perhaps by altering diagenetic reactions within the (~1.8−0.8 Ga) contains relatively few sediment-hosted strati-
sedimentary rock pile that could include the amount of quartz form copper deposits. This period of Earth history appears to
precipitation and thus influence the degree and longevity of have been remarkably tectonically, and possibly climatically,
sedimentary rock permeability. stable (Holland, 2005a). Although ocean chemistry is be-
lieved to have fluctuated in terms of Mg/Ca ratios throughout
Exploration Considerations this period (Hardie, 2003), no major glacial events have been
Sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits form in any lo- recognized (Fig. 8). Evaporites were deposited during this
cation where basinal fluids passing through a series of highly time, but the major sediment-hosted stratiform copper de-
oxidized rocks can obtain copper, which is then precipitated posits of this age, within the Belt and Keweewan basins, did
as the fluids encounter a reductant that destabilizes the com- not form in the major evaporitic basins. Holland (2005a) has
plexing ability of the fluid. Many deposits appear to have also speculated that the amount of organic matter entering
begun formation during diagenesis when mineralizing fluids the oceans during this time was probably much less than dur-
became focused into constrained areas by stratigraphic and/or ing the Phanerozoic. This relative paucity of organic matter
structural architecture. may have resulted in much less common reduced sedimen-
However, to form supergiant sediment-hosted stratiform tary rock facies that are critical for formation of sediment-
copper deposits, a number of major features must be present: hosted stratiform copper deposits.
abundant, highly oxidized metal source rocks, highly reduced The presence of the supergiant middle Paleoproterozoic
strata in a position favoring interaction with significant Udokan system offers potential that other productive basins
amounts of fluid that previously passed through the oxidized of similar age can be located. Better understanding of the
stratal package, and significant thicknesses of evaporites cap- Udokan deposit and basin geology would allow us to develop
ping the reduced strata to serve as a hydrologic seal and a a more robust picture of this deposit type in early Earth his-
source of high-salinity (and sulfur-rich?) brines. It is critical tory. However, more work is required not only at Udokan it-
that the basin is relatively quiescent for long periods of geo- self but also on the tectonic configuration of continental
logic time, but sufficient energy must be input to promote masses, seawater history, and climate of the Paleoproterozoic.
convection of fluids within the basal section of oxidized clas- It is interesting to note that the age of the Ukokan host rocks
tic rocks. Evidence suggests that in addition to these factors, (2200–1800 Ma) is slightly younger than the age of a major
seawater chemistry may be important for the genesis of large Paleoproterozoic glacial event(s) (2400–2200 Ma; Crowell,
deposits. Periods of Earth history with sulfate-rich oceans ap- 1999). At least one of these Paleoproterozoic glacial events
pear to be the most favorable. appears to have affected low latitudes (Evans et al., 1997).

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Ice Ages

m(Mg+2 ) i/ m(Ca+2 ) i in ocean water

200 8
Cu, millions of t onnes

150 6
Suspected age
of Udokan host rocks

100 4

50 2
aragonit e sea
calcit e sea Udokan
? 0
0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500
T K J Tr C D O C Neoprot Mesoprot Paleoprot

Geological Time ( Ma) and Period

FIG. 8. Correlation of the ages of host rocks and mineralization for sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits (2500
Ma–present), as well as ages of major glacial events (Eyles and Young, 1994) and the variation in seawater chemistry as por-
trayed by the m(Mg2+)i/m(Ca2+)i ratio (purple line). Seawater chemistry data during the Phanerozoic (500 Ma–present) are
from Horita et al. (2002) and data from the Proterozoic are from Hardie (2003). There appears to be a correlation between
times of significant sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposit formation with glacial periods and intervals of magnesium-
rich ocean chemistry. The data would predict that the age of the Udokan system is probably close to 2200 Ma.

This period of the Paleoproterozoic may also have been a Anderson, H.E., and Davis, D.W., 1995, U-Pb geochronology of the Moyie
time of magnesium- and sulfate-rich seawater (Hardie, 2003; sills, Purcell Supergroup, southeastern British Columbia: Implications for
the Mesoproterozoic geologic history of the Purcell (Belt) basin: Canadian
Fig. 8). Thus, similar to the deposits in the Zechstein and Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 32, p. 1180–1193.
Katangan basins, there may be an association between the su- Barra, F., Broughton, D., Ruiz, J., and Hitzman, M., 2004, Multi-stage min-
pergiant Udokan sediment-hosted stratiform copper system eralization in the Zambian Copperbelt based on Re-Os isotope constraints
and glaciation and sulfate-rich seawater (Fig. 8). [abs.]: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 36, no. 5,
p. 516.
Better understanding of paleoplate configurations through Bechtel, A., Elliot, W.C., Wampler, J.M., and Oszczepalski, S., 1999, Clay
Earth history will be critical for future exploration for addi- mineralogy, crystallinity, and K-Ar ages of illites within the Polish Zechstein
tional giant and supergiant deposits of this type. The paucity basin: Implications for the age of Kupferschiefer mineralization: ECO-
of major sediment-hosted stratiform copper districts indi- NOMIC GEOLOGY, v. 94, p. 261−272.

cates that a number of specific and unique conditions need Berner, R.A., 2004, A model for calcium, magnesium and sulfate in seawater
over Phanerozoic time: American Journal of Science, v. 304, p. 438−453.
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and this appears to have happened rarely throughout Earth eds., 1989, Sediment-hosted stratiform copper deposits: Geological Associ-
history. ation of Canada Special Paper 36, 710 p.
Bornhorst, T.J., Paces, J.B., Grant, N.K., Obradovich, J.D., and Huber, N.K.,
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Broughton, D.W., Hitzman, M.W., and Stephens, A.J., 2002, Exploration his-
David Broughton, Lawrence Cathles, III, Richard Goldfarb, tory and geology of the Kansanshi Cu- (Au) deposit, Zambia: Society of
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