The Meadowbank gold deposits are hosted by a series of polydeformed and metamorphosed auriferous iron formations located in the Neoarchean Woodburn Lake group, western Churchill province, Nunavut. The supracrustal rocks in the Meadowbank area consist of a thick sequence of intermediate-composition volcanic rocks with intercalated iron formation, ultramafic volcanic rocks, and quartzite to quartz arenite. U-Pb geochronology gives an interpreted age of 2711 ± 3 Ma for the host strata at Meadowbank.
The intermediate volcanic rocks are predominately volcaniclastic and have a geochemical composition that is consistent with an active continental margin setting. Iron formation deposition was coeval with the intermediate volcanism, as indicated by incorporation of volcanic detritus in the chemical precipitate. The geochemistry of the iron formation indicates that it precipitated from a fluid that at one time was at high temperature (>250°C), reducing, and likely acidic. Intercalated ultramafic rocks rarely show spinifex textures and have trace element ratios that are consistent with mantle plume-related undepleted mantle asthenosphere, likely recording episodic mantle upwelling associated with rifting in an active continental margin. The contact between the ultramafic volcanic rocks and the overlying quartz arenite is a disconformity marked by a quartz pebble conglomerate. However, similar geology on the structural hanging wall and footwall of the contact suggests that the conglomerate does not represent a significant hiatus in deposition, and is more likely a prograding terriginous siliciclastic unit.
Three metamorphic events are recognized. The first, M1, is a cryptic greenschist facies event that is pre-D2. The second event, M2, is a mid-greenschist to amphibolite facies, syn-D2 event. M3 is the last event recognized, and is a post-tectonic greenschist facies event that is regional but inhomogeneous in extent, possibly reflecting thermal aureoles around post-tectonic 1.7 to 1.8 Ga Nueltin granites.
The structural geology of the area is complex with four phases of deformation recognized, two of which had a significant effect on the geometry of the deposit. All of these regional events are interpreted as Paleoproterozoic in age. Relationships between deformation fabrics and mineralization, as well as the overall geometry of the mineralized envelopes, suggest that the deposit formed during syn- to late-D2. Superimposed on the mineralization are D4 structural elements that postdate gold mineralization.
The main control on gold mineralization is replacement of magnetite by pyrrhotite and pyrite in high-strain corridors. The composition of amphiboles and chlorites associated with gold mineralization is remarkably consistent and shows no spatial or temporal variation, suggesting that it was buffered by the iron-rich nature of the host rocks. The bulk metasomatic effect on the intermediate volcanic rocks is characterized by the addition of K2O and the loss of CaO, Na2O, and MgO, with little variation in the total iron content. The elemental losses are likely the result of destruction of feldspars, stilpnomelane, and ferroactinolite, which are relatively common in the unmineralized rocks, and the formation of sericite, chlorite, and grunerite.
Textural and timing relationships suggest that the mineralization is syn- to late-D2, and by inference M2. Fluid inclusions, chlorite, and arsenopyrite geothermometry all suggest that mineralization took place at about 325° to 375°C and 1.3 kbar pressure. These are lower P-T conditions than is indicated by M2 mineral assemblages, suggesting that the deposit formed during the waning stages of metamorphism. Strain partitioning due to the mechanical contrast of the iron formation preferentially localized dilational settings during D2 deformation. This allowed fluid influx, sulfidation of the iron formation, and resulting precipitation of gold to be concentrated in high-strain corridors. Geologic relations and geochronology collectively suggest that a Paleoproterozoic (ca. 1.8–1.9 Ga) deformation event was responsible for the introduction of gold into the Neoarchean supracrustal sequences.