The Cordillera of British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska: Tectonics and Metallogeny
Published:January 01, 2013
JoAnne L. Nelson, Maurice Colpron, Steve Israel, 2013. "The Cordillera of British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska: Tectonics and Metallogeny", Tectonics, Metallogeny, and Discovery: The North American Cordillera and Similar Accretionary Settings, M. Colpron, T. Bissig, B. G. Rusk, J. F. H. Thompson
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The Cordilleran orogen of western Canada and Alaska records tectonic processes than span over 1.8 billion years, from assembly of the Laurentian cratonic core of Ancestral North America in the Precambrian to sea-floor spreading, subduction, and geometrically linked transform faulting along the modern continental margin. The evolution of tectonic regimes, from Proterozoic intracratonic basin subsidence and Paleozoic rifting to construction of Mesozoic and younger intraoceanic and continent-margin arcs, has led to diverse metallogenetic styles.
The northern Cordillera consists of four large-scale paleogeographic realms. The Ancestral North American (Laurentian) realm comprises 2.3 to 1.8 Ga cratonic basement, Paleoproterozoic through Triassic cover successions, and younger synorogenic clastic deposits. Terranes of the peri-Laurentian realm, although allochthonous, have a northwestern Laurentian heritage. They include continental fragments, arcs, accompanying accretionary complexes, and back-arc marginal ocean basins that developed off western (present coordinates) Ancestral North America, in a setting similar to the modern western Pacific basin. Terranes of the Arctic-northeastern Pacific realm include the following: pre-Devonian pericratonic and arc fragments that originated near the Baltican and Siberian margins of the Arctic basin and Late Devonian to early Jurassic arc, back-arc, and accretionary terranes that developed during transport into and within the northeastern paleo-Pacific basin. Some Arctic realm terranes may have impinged on the outer peri-Laurentian margin in the Devonian. However, main-stage accretion of the two realms to each other and to the Laurentian margin began in mid-Jurassic time and continued through the Cretaceous. Terranes of the Coastal realm occupy the western edge of the present continent; they include later Mesozoic to Cenozoic accretionary prisms and seamounts that were scraped off of Pacific oceanic plates during subduction beneath the margin of North America.
Each realm carries its own metallogenetic signature. Proterozoic basins of Ancestral North America host polymetallic SEDEX, Cu-Au-U-Co-enriched breccias, MVT, and sedimentary copper deposits. Paleozoic syngenetic sulfides occur in continental rift and arc settings in Ancestral North America, the peri-Laurentian terranes, and in two of the older pericratonic Arctic terranes, Arctic Alaska, and Alexander. The early Mesozoic peri-Laurentian arcs of Stikinia and Quesnellia host prolific porphyry Cu-Au and Cu-Mo and related precious metal-enriched deposits. Superimposed postaccretionary magmatic arcs and compressional and extensional tectonic regimes have also given rise to important mineral deposit suites, particularly gold, but also porphyries. Very young (5 Ma) porphyry Cu deposits in northwestern Vancouver Island and sea-floor hotspring deposits along the modern Juan de Fuca Ridge off the southwest coast of British Columbia show that Cordilleran metallogeny continues.
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Tectonics, Metallogeny, and Discovery: The North American Cordillera and Similar Accretionary Settings
The northern Pacific Rim—for the purposes of this contribution—comprises the Mesozoic and Cenozoic magmatic-arc and associated terranes of eastern China, Korea, Japan, the Russian Far East, Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, the western United States, and Mexico. This ~1,800-km-long segment of the Pacific Rim is marked by a broad spectrum of metallogenic environments and mining jurisdictions, which combine to dictate where and how exploration is conducted and the overriding character of any resulting discoveries.
This summary report commences with a brief metallogenic overview of the northern Pacific Rim, with particular attention paid to the world-class Mesozoic and Cenozoic ore deposits that define the region’s premier metallogenic provinces. This is followed by a summary of the relative attractiveness of the region’s various mining jurisdictions, as recorded by recent exploration activity. The major discoveries made along the northern Pacific Rim, particularly during the past half century, are then placed in this metallogenic and regulatory context as a basis for determining the successful exploration methodologies employed. This discovery track record is then used to predict what the future of exploration in this vast and varied region may hold.
Much of the northern Pacific Rim, from eastern China and the Russian Far East in the northwest through Alaska to western parts of Canada, the United States, and Mexico in the southeast (Fig. 1), is characterized by a complex array of oceanic, accretionary prism, magmatic arc, and back-arc basin terranes and associated microcontinental blocks accreted to the North China, Siberian, Hyperborean, and North American cratons, mainly during Mesozoic times (Coney et al., 1980; Campa and Coney, 1983; Kojima, 1989; Nokleberg et al., 2005; Yakubchuk, 2009). The metallogeny of these tectonic collages is dictated by various combinations of pre-, syn-, and postaccretion ore-forming events, the last of which are generally preeminent, except in British Columbia (Nokleberg et al., 2005; Nelson and Colpron, 2007).
Although the Meso-Cenozoic metallogeny of the northwestern and northeastern Pacific quadrants displays some similarities, it is the contrasts that are most marked. The main contrasts stem from the preeminence of tin, tungsten, and antimony in eastern China, Korea, Japan, and the Russian Far East and of copper and silver in Western Canada, the conterminous United States, and Mexico. Nonetheless, both the northwestern and northeastern Pacific quadrants are exceptionally well endowed with gold and molybdenum deposits. The northeasternmost Russian Far East, Alaska, and Yukon Territory display elements of both northwestern and northeastern Pacific metallogeny (Fig. 1). These metallogenic contrasts between the northwestern and northeastern quadrants result in China being the world’s leading producer of tungsten, tin, bismuth, and antimony, mostly from its eastern Mesozoic metallogenic province.