Volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposit

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Volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposit at Kidd Mine, Timmins, Ontario, Canada, formed 2.7 billion years ago on an ancient seafloor Kidd Mine.jpg
Volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposit at Kidd Mine, Timmins, Ontario, Canada, formed 2.7 billion years ago on an ancient seafloor
A cross-section of a typical volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) ore deposit as seen in the sedimentary record Classic VMS Deposit2.png
A cross-section of a typical volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) ore deposit as seen in the sedimentary record

Volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposits, also known as VMS ore deposits, are a type of metal sulfide ore deposit, mainly copper-zinc which are associated with and created by volcanic-associated hydrothermal events in submarine environments. [2] [3] [4]

Metal element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat

A metal is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appearance, and conducts electricity and heat relatively well. Metals are typically malleable or ductile. A metal may be a chemical element such as iron, or an alloy such as stainless steel.

Sulfide salt or other derivative of hydrogen sulfide or organic compound having the structure RSR (R ≠ H)

Sulfide (British English sulphide) is an inorganic anion of sulfur with the chemical formula S2− or a compound containing one or more S2− ions. Solutions of sulfide salts are corrosive. Sulfide also refers to chemical compounds large families of inorganic and organic compounds, e.g. lead sulfide and dimethyl sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and bisulfide (SH-) are the conjugate acids of sulfide.

Ore rock with valuable metals, minerals and elements

An ore is an occurrence of rock or sediment that contains sufficient minerals with economically important elements, typically metals, that can be economically extracted from the deposit. The ores are extracted from the earth through mining; they are then refined to extract the valuable element, or elements.


These deposits are also sometimes called volcanic-hosted massive sulfide (VHMS) deposits. The density generally is 4500 kg/m3. They are predominantly stratiform accumulations of sulfide minerals that precipitate from hydrothermal fluids on or below the seafloor in a wide range of ancient and modern geological settings. In modern oceans they are synonymous with sulfurous plumes called black smokers.

They occur within environments dominated by volcanic or volcanic derived (e.g., volcano-sedimentary) rocks, and the deposits are coeval and coincident with the formation of said volcanic rocks. As a class, they represent a significant source of the world's copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver ores, with cobalt, tin, barium, sulfur, selenium, manganese, cadmium, indium, bismuth, tellurium, gallium and germanium as co- or by-products.

Lead Chemical element with atomic number 82

Lead is a chemical element with symbol Pb and atomic number 82. It is a heavy metal that is denser than most common materials. Lead is soft and malleable, and also has a relatively low melting point. When freshly cut, lead is silvery with a hint of blue; it tarnishes to a dull gray color when exposed to air. Lead has the highest atomic number of any stable element and three of its isotopes each include a major decay chain of heavier elements.

Gold Chemical element with atomic number 79

Gold is a chemical element with symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins, and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium.

Silver Chemical element with atomic number 47

Silver is a chemical element with symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it exhibits the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and reflectivity of any metal. The metal is found in the Earth's crust in the pure, free elemental form, as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite. Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.

Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits are forming today on the seafloor around undersea volcanoes along many mid ocean ridges, and within back-arc basins and forearc rifts. Mineral exploration companies are exploring for seafloor massive sulfide deposits; however, most exploration is concentrated in the search for land-based equivalents of these deposits.

Submarine volcano Underwater vents or fissures in the Earths surface from which magma can erupt

Submarine volcanoes are underwater vents or fissures in the Earth's surface from which magma can erupt. A large number of submarine volcanoes are located near areas of tectonic plate movement, known as mid-ocean ridges. The volcanoes at mid-ocean ridges alone are estimated to account for 75% of the magma output on Earth. Although most submarine volcanoes are located in the depths of seas and oceans, some also exist in shallow water, and these can discharge material into the atmosphere during an eruption. The total number of submarine volcanoes is estimated to be over 1 million, of which some 75,000 rise more than 1 km above the seabed.

Seafloor massive sulfide deposits Mineral deposits from seafloor hydrothermal vents

Seafloor massive sulfide deposits or SMS deposits, are modern equivalents of ancient volcanogenic massive sulfide ore deposits or VMS deposits. The term has been coined by mineral explorers to differentiate the modern deposit from the ancient.

The close association with volcanic rocks and eruptive centers sets VMS deposits apart from similar ore deposit types which share similar source, transport and trap processes. Volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits are distinctive in that ore deposits are formed in close temporal association with submarine volcanism and are formed by hydrothermal circulation and exhalation of sulfides which are independent of sedimentary processes, which sets VMS deposits apart from sedimentary exhalative (SEDEX) deposits.

Sedimentary exhalative deposits

Sedimentary exhalative deposits are ore deposits which are interpreted to have been formed by release of ore-bearing hydrothermal fluids into a water reservoir, resulting in the precipitation of stratiform ore.

There is a subclass of VMS deposits, the volcanic- and sediment-hosted massive sulfide (VSHMS) deposits, that do share characteristics that are hybrid between the VMS and SEDEX deposits. Notable examples of this class include the deposits of the Bathurst Camp, New Brunswick, Canada (e.g., Brunswick #12); the deposits of the Iberian Pyrite Belt, Portugal and Spain, and the Wolverine deposit, Yukon, Canada.

New Brunswick province in Canada

New Brunswick is one of four Atlantic provinces on the east coast of Canada. According to the Constitution of Canada, New Brunswick is the only bilingual province. About two thirds of the population declare themselves anglophones and a third francophones. One third of the population describes themselves as bilingual. Atypically for Canada, only about half of the population lives in urban areas, mostly in Greater Moncton, Greater Saint John and the capital Fredericton.

Iberian Pyrite Belt

The Iberian Pyrite Belt is a vast geographical area with particular geological features that stretches along much of the south of the Iberian Peninsula, from Portugal to Spain. It is about 250 km long and 30–50 km wide, running northwest to southeast from Alcácer do Sal (Portugal) to Sevilla (Spain). The mining activity in this region goes back thousands of years.

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe, being bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

Genetic model


The typical location for VMS deposits is at the top of the felsic volcanic sequence, within a sequence of volcaniclastic tuffaceous epiclastics, cherts, sediments or perhaps fine tuffs which are usually related to the underlying volcanics. The hangingwall to the deposit is broadly related to a more mafic sequence of volcanic rocks, either andesite (examples being Whim Creek & Mons Cupri, Western Australia or Millenbach, Canada), or basalt (Hellyer, Tasmania) or absent or sediments only (Kangaroo Caves, Western Australia).

VMS deposits are associated spatially and temporally with felsic volcanic rocks, usually present in the stratigraphy below the deposit, and often as the direct footwall to the deposit. Sediments are usually contiguous with VMS deposits in some form or another and typically are present as (manganiferous) cherts and chemical sediments deposited within a submarine environment.

The hanging wall to the deposit can be volcanic units essentially contiguous and coeval with the footwall rocks, indicating mineralisation was developed in an inter-eruptive pause; it may be volcanic rock dissimilar to the footwall volcanics in bimodal volcanic subtypes, or it could be sedimentary strata if mineralisation occurred toward the end of an eruptive cycle.

Hybrid VMS-SEDEX deposits of the siliciclastic associations (see below) may be developed within interflow sediments or within units of sedimentary rocks which are present discontinuously throughout a larger and essentially contiguous volcanic package.

Altogether, these geological features have been interpreted to show an association of VMS deposits with hydrothermal systems developed above or around submarine volcanic centres.


VMS deposits have a wide variety of morphologies, with mound shaped and bowl shaped deposits most typical. The bowl-shaped formations formed due to venting of hydrothermal solutions into submarine depressions - in many cases, this type of deposit can be confused with sedimentary exhalative deposits. The mound-shaped deposits formed in a way similar to that of modern massive sulfide deposits - via production of a hydrothermal mound formed by successive black smoker chimneys. Deposits that have formed in environments dominated by sedimentary rocks or highly permeable volcanic rocks can show a tabular morphology that mimics the geometry of the surrounding rocks.

VMS deposits have an ideal form of a conical area of highly altered volcanic or volcanogenic sedimentary rock within the feeder zone,[ definition needed ] which is called the stringer sulfide or stockwork zone, overlain by a mound of massive exhalites, and flanked by stratiform exhalative sulfides known as the apron.

The stockwork zone typically consists of vein-hosted sulfides (mostly chalcopyrite, pyrite, and pyrrhotite) with quartz, chlorite and lesser carbonates and barite.

The mound zone consists of laminated massive to brecciated pyrite, sphalerite (+/-galena), hematite, and barite. The mound can be up to several tens of metres thick and several hundred metres in diameter.

The apron zone is generally more oxidised, with stratiform, laminated sulfidic sediments, similar to SEDEX ores, and is generally manganese, barium and hematite enriched, with cherts, jaspers and chemical sediments common.

Metal zonation

Most VMS deposits show metal zonation, caused by the changing physical and chemical environments of the circulating hydrothermal fluid. Ideally, this forms a core of massive pyrite and chalcopyrite around the throat of the vent system, with a halo of chalcopyrite-sphalerite-pyrite grading into a distal sphalerite-galena and galena-manganese and finally a chert-manganese-hematite facies. Most VMS deposits show a vertical zonation of gold, with the cooler upper portions generally more enriched in gold and silver.

The mineralogy of VMS massive sulfide consists of over 90% iron sulfide, mainly in the form of pyrite, with chalcopyrite, sphalerite and galena also being major constituents. Magnetite is present in minor amounts; as magnetite content increases, the ores grade into massive oxide deposits. The gangue (the uneconomic waste material) is mainly quartz and pyrite or pyrrhotite. Due to the high density of the deposits some have marked gravity anomalies (Neves-Corvo, Portugal) which is of use in exploration.

Alteration morphology

Alteration haloes developed by VMS deposits are typically conical in shape, occur mostly stratigraphically below the original fluid flow location (not necessarily the ore itself), and are typically zoned.

The most intense alteration (containing the stringer sulfide zone) is generally located directly underneath the greatest concentration of massive sulfides, within the footwall volcanic sequence. If the stringer zone is displaced from the sulfides, it is often the product of tectonic deformation, or the formation of a hybrid SEDEX-like distal pool of sulfides.

The alteration assemblages of the footwall alteration zone is, from core outwards;

In all cases these alteration zones are metasomatism effects in the strictest sense, resulting in addition of potassium, silica, magnesium, and depletion of sodium. Chlorite minerals are usually more magnesian in composition within the footwall alteration zone of a VMS deposit than equivalent rocks within the same formation distally. The hangingwall to a VMS deposit is often weakly sodium depleted.

Alteration not associated with the ore forming process may also be omnipresent both above and below the massive sulfide deposit. Typical alteration textures associated with devitrification of submarine volcanic rocks such as rhyolitic glasses, notably formation of spherulites, of perlite, lithophysae, and low-temperature prehnite-pumpellyite facies sub-seafloor alteration is ubiquitous though often overprinted by later metamorphic events.

Metamorphic mineralogical, textural and structural changes within the host volcanic sequence may also further serve to disguise original metasomatic mineral assemblages.


Deposits of this class have been classified by numerous workers in different ways (e.g., metal sources, type examples, geodynamic setting - see Franklin et al. (1981) and Lydon (1984)). The magmatic assemblages of VMS deposits are associated with varying tectonic setting and geological environment during the formation of the VMS. The following five subclasses have specific petrochemical assemblages that resemble a specific geodynamic environment, during the event of formation: [5]

Mafic associated

VMS deposits associated with geological environments dominated by mafic rocks, commonly ophiolite sequences. The Cyprus and Oman ophiolites host examples and ophiolite-hosted deposits are found in the Newfoundland Appalachians represent classic districts of this subclass.


VMS deposits associated with environments dominated by mafic volcanic rocks, but with up to 25% felsic volcanic rocks, the latter often hosting the deposits. The Noranda, Flin Flon-Snow Lake and Kidd Creek camps would be classic districts of this group.


VMS deposits associated with sub-equal proportions of mafic volcanic and siliciclastic rocks; felsic rocks can be a minor component; and mafic (and ultramafic) intrusive rocks are common. In metamorphic terranes may be known as or pelitic-mafic associated VMS deposits. The Besshi deposits in Japan and Windy Craggy, BC represent classic districts of this group.


VMS deposits associated with siliciclastic sedimentary rock dominated settings with abundant felsic rocks and less than 10% mafic material. These settings are often shale-rich siliciclastic-felsic or bimodal siliciclastic. The Bathurst camp, New Brunswick, Canada; Iberian Pyrite Belt, Spain and Portugal; and Finlayson Lake areas, Yukon, Canada are classic districts of this group.


Kuroko Massive Sulfide Cross section Kuroko Massive Sulfide Cross section.png
Kuroko Massive Sulfide Cross section

VMS deposits associated with bimodal sequences where felsic rocks are in greater abundance than mafic rocks with only minor sedimentary rocks. The Kuroko deposits, Japan; Buchans deposits, Canada; and Skellefte deposits, Sweden are classic districts of this group.

The magmatic assemblages of VMS deposits are associated with varying tectonic setting and geological environment during the formation of the VMS. The above groups


In the geological past, the majority of VMS deposits were formed in rift environments associated with volcanic rocks. In particular, they formed throughout geological time associated with mid-ocean ridge spreading centres, back-arc spreading centres, and forearc spreading centres. A common theme to all environments of VMS deposits through time is the association with spreading (i.e., an extensional geodynamic regime). The deposits are typically associated with bimodal sequences (sequences with subequal percentages of mafic and felsic rocks - e.g., Noranda or Kuroko), felsic and sediment-rich environments (e.g., Bathurst), mafic and sediment-rich environments (e.g., Besshi or Windy Craggy), or mafic-dominated settings (e.g., Cyprus and other ophiolite hosted deposits).

The majority of world deposits are small, with about 80% of known deposits in the range 0.1-10 Mt. Examples of VMS deposits are Kidd Creek, Ontario, Canada; Flin Flon in the Flin Flon greenstone belt, Manitoba, Canada (777 and Trout Lake Mine); Brunswick #12, New Brunswick, Canada; Rio Tinto, Spain; Greens Creek mine, Alaska, U.S..

See also

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