Brief History of High-Grade Iron Ore Mining in North America (1848–2008)
Philip E. Brown, 2008. "Brief History of High-Grade Iron Ore Mining in North America (1848–2008)", Banded Iron Formation-Related High-Grade Iron Ore, Steffen Hagemann, Carlos Alberto Rosière, Jens Gutzmer, Nicolas J. Beukes
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Approximately 3.4 billion tons (Gt) of iron ores containing >50 percent Fe were produced from U.S. mines in the Lake Superior region from 1848 until they were exhausted 20 to 30 years ago. The Vermilion Range in Minnesota produced nearly 100 million tons (Mt) of this ore from Archean greenstone belt-hosted iron formation. The remaining production has come from Proterozoic strata including 2.3 Gt from the Mesabi and 100 Mt from the Cuyuna Ranges in Minnesota while Michigan and Wisconsin contributed 230 Mt from the Marquette Range, 290 Mt from the Menominee Range, and 325 Mt from the Gogebic Range. The protore of these direct-shipping ores are carbonate- or oxide-facies banded iron formations that contained 25 to 35 percent Fe prior to undergoing leaching (desilicification), oxidation, and volume loss. The conventional model ascribing these changes to supergene processes has recently been challenged by research showing that hypogene fluids, channeled by faults into structurally favorable horizons and settings, have played a dominant role in producing some of the high-grade (>60% Fe) ores that are presently providing much of the world's iron ore. Descriptions of the North American iron ores, generally starting with the U.S. Geological Survey monographs published at the beginning of the 20th century provide many tantalizing clues, suggesting that hypogene fluids have indeed played an important role in the evolution of some of these districts. Application of modern geophysical techniques and structural and geochemical analyses may well guide the discovery of new high-grade ores either below or adjacent to the historic mining areas. The time seems to be ripe for exploration to return to the area that can claim to have begun geologists' understanding of this most important ore deposit type.
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The spark to put together this volume on banded iron formation (BIF)-related high-grade iron ore was born in 2005 during a steamy night in Carajás where the iron research group from the Universidade Federal Minas Gerais, Vale geologists, Carlos Rosière and Steffen Hagemann, were hotly debating the hypogene alteration genesis for the high-grade, jaspilite-hosted Serra Norte iron ore deposits. A couple of caipirinhas later we decided that the time was opportune to put together a volume that captured the new and innovative research that was being conducted on BIF-related high-grade iron ores throughout the world. We had little problem convincing our South African colleagues Jens Gutzmer and Nic Beukes to join the effort and decided that the 2008 biannual Society of Economic Geologists' (SEG) meeting in South Africa would be the perfect place to present this project through a combined field trip and workshop near Sishen.
The enthusiastic support that we received from the research community, SEG, and industry to put this volume together was generated by the significant increase in exploration activity, and with it the need for more detailed information on what exactly controls the location of high-grade iron orebodies, and renewed research interest around the world in models for the genesis of BIF-related high-grade iron ore, and particularly the relative importance of hypogene and supergene processes in formation of high-grade ore.
This volume concentrates on new research on the characteristics and metallogenesis of BIF-related high-grade iron ores. It contains a state of the art series of papers on established and new iron ore districts and deposits, the different components of the BIF iron mineral system, and how to best explore for this ore type. Although the emphasis of many of the contributions to this volume is on the hypogene aspect of high-grade iron ore formation, it is important to note that most BIF-related iron ore districts have a very pronounced supergene overprint due to deep lateritic weathering. The transformation of many hypogene iron orebodies of reasonable grade and size to the giant deposits exploited today can be related to this geologically recent supergene overprint; most of the past and still much of the present mining of high-grade iron ore relates to soft ore interpreted in most cases to be the direct result of supergene processes. Also mentioned here should be the recent resurgence of a syngenetic model that advocates the formation of chert-free BIF