Skip to Main Content
Skip Nav Destination


The 100-mile-long Mesabi Iron Range contains the Biwabik Iron Formation, the largest of the Lake Superior–type iron-formations in the United States, deposited on the northern edge of the Paleoproterozoic Animikie Basin. This basin has been interpreted as a foreland basin that developed north of the Penokean Fold-and-Thrust Belt (ca. 1850 Ma), or alternatively, as a backarc basin north of the Wisconsin magmatic terrane.

The basal unit in the basin, the siliciclastic Pokegama Formation, was deposited upon the ca. 2700 Ma granitic-volcanic basement. It is conformably overlain by the Biwabik Iron Formation, 200–750 ft thick, which consists of four members: lower cherty, lower slaty, upper cherty, and upper slaty. There are two prominent stromatolite zones. Both of the above formations contain attributes of deposition in a tidally influenced environment. The Biwabik is conformably overlain by the Virginia Formation, a thick turbiditic sequence of interbedded black shale, graywacke, and ash beds. All three formations dip southeastward at 10°–20°.

The iron-formation (taconite) generally consists of 20%–30% Fe present in carbonates, silicates, and oxides, and 70%–80% SiO2. Direct shipping ores, also called natural ores, were originally mined on the Mesabi Iron Range and were instrumental in making the United States an industrial giant and in the winning of WWI and WWII. These ores originated along fault zones in the iron-formation where silica was removed leaving high-grade oxidized hematite-goethite natural ore bodies of 50%–55% Fe. Processing of low-grade magnetic taconite began in 1952, passed the natural ores in tonnage in 1967, and is now totally dominant. Field trip stops will include all three formations, with emphasis on the iron-formation. The final stop is in the folded Thomson Formation, the southerly equivalent of the Virginia Formation.

You do not currently have access to this chapter.

Figures & Tables




Citing Books via

Close Modal

or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal