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Abstract

The Abitibi greenstone belt, which straddles the border between Ontario and Quebec in eastern Canada, represents one of the largest and best-preserved Neoarchean greenstone belts in the world. The belt consists of E-trending successions of folded volcanic and sedimentary rocks and intervening domes of intrusive rocks. Submarine volcanism occurred between 2795 and 2695 Ma. Six volcanic assemblages have been defined, recording submarine volcanism during specific periods of time. Komatiite successions within some of these volcanic assemblages are host to magmatic sulfide deposits. However, economically more important are volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits, which contain a total of ~775 million tonnes (t) of polymetallic massive sulfides. Approximately half of the endowment is hosted by volcanic rocks of the 2704 to 2695 Ma Blake River assemblage. VMS deposits of this assemblage also account for most of the synvolcanic gold in the Abitibi greenstone belt, totaling over 1,100 t (~35 Moz).

Submarine volcanism was followed by the deposition of large amounts of sedimentary material derived from a shallow marine or subaerial hinterland, created as a result of crustal thickening during an early phase of mountain building at ≤2690 to ≤2685 Ma. Submarine volcanic rocks and the overlying flysch-like sedimentary rocks of the Porcupine assemblage were affected by large-scale folding and thrusting during at least one deformational event prior to 2679 Ma. At this time, a terrestrial unconformity surface developed between the older and already deformed rocks of the Abitibi greenstone belt and molasse-like sedimentary rocks of the Timiskaming assemblage, which were deposited between ≤2679 and ≤2669 Ma. Deposition of the Timiskaming sedimentary rocks occurred in extensional basins and was locally accompanied by predominantly alkaline volcanism and related intrusive activity.

Crustal shortening and thick-skinned deformation resulted in the structural burial of the molasse-like sedimentary rocks of the Timiskaming assemblage after 2669 Ma. Panels of Timiskaming deposits were preserved in the footwall of these thrusts, which are today represented by major fault zones cutting across the supracrustal rocks of the Abitibi greenstone belt. The structural history of these fault zones is complicated by late-stage strike-slip deformation. The Porcupine-Destor and Larder Lake-Cadillac fault zones of the southern Abitibi greenstone belt as well as second- and third-order splays off these fault zones are host to a number of major orogenic gold deposits. The gold endowment of these deposits exceeds 6,200 t (~200 Moz), making the Abitibi greenstone belt one of the economically most important metamorphic terranes in the world.

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