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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5070–I

Occurrence Model for Magmatic Sulfide-Rich Nickel-Copper-(Platinum-Group Element) Deposits Related to Mafic and Ultramafic Dike-Sill Complexes

Chapter I of
Mineral Deposit Models for Resource Assessment

By Klaus J. Schulz, Laurel G. Woodruff, Suzanne W. Nicholson, Robert R. Seal II, Nadine M. Piatak, Val W. Chandler, and John L. Mars

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (12.5 MB)Abstract

Magmatic sulfide deposits containing nickel (Ni) and copper (Cu), with or without (±) platinum-group elements (PGE), account for approximately 60 percent of the world’s nickel production. Most of the remainder of the Ni production is derived from lateritic deposits, which form by weathering of ultramafic rocks in humid tropical conditions. Magmatic Ni-Cu±PGE sulfide deposits are spatially and genetically related to bodies of mafic and/or ultramafic rocks. The sulfide deposits form when the mantle-derived mafic and/or ultramafic magmas become sulfide-saturated and segregate immiscible sulfide liquid, commonly following interaction with continental crustal rocks.

Deposits of magmatic Ni-Cu sulfides occur with mafic and/or ultramafic bodies emplaced in diverse geologic settings. They range in age from Archean to Tertiary, but the largest number of deposits are Archean and Paleoproterozoic. Although deposits occur on most continents, ore deposits (deposits of sufficient size and grade to be economic to mine) are relatively rare; major deposits are present in Russia, China, Australia, Canada, and southern Africa. Nickel-Cu sulfide ore deposits can occur as single or multiple sulfide lenses within mafic and/or ultramafic bodies with clusters of such deposits comprising a district or mining camp. Typically, deposits contain ore grades of between 0.5 and 3 percent Ni and between 0.2 and 2 percent Cu. Tonnages of individual deposits range from a few tens of thousands to tens of millions of metric tons (Mt) bulk ore. Two giant Ni-Cu districts, with ≥10 Mt Ni, dominate world Ni sulfide resources and production. These are the Sudbury district, Ontario, Canada, where sulfide ore deposits are at the lower margins of a meteorite impact-generated igneous complex and contain 19.8 Mt Ni; and the Noril’sk-Talnakh district, Siberia, Russia, where the ore deposits are in subvolcanic mafic intrusions related to flood basalts and contain 23.1 Mt Ni. In the United States, the Duluth Complex in Minnesota, comprised of a group of mafic intrusions related to the 1.1 Ga Midcontinent Rift system, represents a major Ni resource of 8 Mt Ni, but deposits generally exhibit low grades (0.2 percent Ni, 0.66 percent Cu) and remain in the process of being proven economic.

The sulfides in magmatic Ni-Cu deposits generally constitute a small volume of the host rock(s) and tend to be concentrated in the lower parts of the mafic and/or ultramafic bodies, often in physical depressions or areas marking changes in the geometry of the footwall topography. In most deposits, the sulfide mineralization can be divided into disseminated, matrix or net, and massive sulfide, depending on a combination of the sulfide content of the rock and the silicate texture. The major Ni-Cu sulfide mineralogy typically consists of an intergrowth of pyrrhotite (Fe7S8), pentlandite ([Fe, Ni]9S8), and chalcopyrite (FeCuS2). Cobalt, PGE, and gold (Au) are extracted from most magmatic Ni-Cu ores as byproducts, although such elements can have a significant impact on the economics in some deposits, such as the Noril’sk-Talnakh deposits, which produce much of the world’s palladium. In addition, deposits may contain between 1 and 15 percent magnetite associated with the sulfides.

First posted November 19, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25046, MS 973
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Schulz, K.J., Woodruff, L.G., Nicholson, S.W., Seal, R.R., II, Piatak, N.M., Chandler, V.W., and Mars, J.L., 2014, Occurrence model for magmatic sulfide-rich nickel-copper-(platinum-group element) deposits related to mafic and ultramafic dike-sill complexes: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5070–I, 80 p.,

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)



Deposit Type and Associated Deposits

Historical Evolution of Descriptive and Genetic Knowledge and Concepts

Regional Environment

Physical Description of Deposits

Geophysical Signatures

Hypogene and Supergene Ore Characteristics

Hypogene Gangue Characteristics

Geochemical Characteristics of Ores

Petrology of Associated Igneous Rocks

Petrology of Related Sedimentary and Metamorphic Country Rocks

Theory of Deposit Formation

Exploration and Resource Assessment Guidelines

Geoenvironmental Features

Knowledge Gaps and Future Research Directions

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