Global distribution of sediment-hosted metals controlled by craton edge stability

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Mark James Hoggard , Karol Czarnota, Fred Richards , David L Huston, A Lynton Jaques, Siavash Ghelichkhan


Sustainable development and the transition to a clean-energy economy drives ever-increasing demand for base metals, significantly outstripping the discovery rate of new deposits and necessitating dramatic improvements in exploration success. Rifting of the continents has formed widespread sedimentary basins, some of which contain large quantities of copper, lead and zinc. Despite over a century of research, the geological structure responsible for the spatial distribution of such fertile regions remains enigmatic. Here, we use statistical tests to compare deposit locations with new maps of lithospheric thickness, which outline the base of tectonic plates. We find that 85% of sediment-hosted base metals, including all giant deposits (>10 megatonnes of metal), occur within 200 km of the transition between thick and thin lithosphere. Rifting in this setting produces greater subsidence and lower basal heat flow, enlarging the depth extent of hydrothermal circulation available for forming giant deposits. Given mineralisation ages span the last 2 billion years, this observation implies long-term lithospheric edge stability and a genetic link between deep Earth processes and near-surface hydrothermal mineral systems. This discovery provides an unprecedented global framework for identifying fertile regions for targeted mineral exploration, reducing the search-space for new deposits by two-thirds on this lithospheric thickness criterion alone.



Earth Sciences, Geology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


mineral exploration, Lead, lithosphere, base metals, copper, mineral systems, sediment-hosted metal deposits, sustainable development, zinc


Published: 2019-05-08 04:15

Last Updated: 2020-06-29 22:02

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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