The Paleoproterozoic Flin Flon mining district is one of the world’s most prolific volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) camps and includes a single stratigraphic interval that hosts the 85.5 million tonne (Mt) Flin Flon, 777, and Callinan Zn-Cu-(Au) deposits. Rapid seafloor burial of the VMS hydrothermal system by a thick succession of pillowed basalt resulted in the hanging-wall strata being affected to varying degrees by the still upward migrating fluids. This hanging-wall alteration hydrothermal fingerprint allows delineation of the regionally metamorphosed paleohydrothermal system, and its characterization has the potential to lead to discovery of buried, stacked, or structurally displaced mineralization.

Evidence for the presence of continued seafloor hydrothermal activity above the Flin Flon-Callinan VMS horizon is observed in the pillowed flows, interlayered hyaloclastite-rich flow tops, and also within finely bedded interflow volcaniclastic sediment. A 30% to 60% metalliferous exhalative component was detected through geochemical and mineral analysis in interpillow volcaniclastic rocks, chert, and epidosite in the hanging-wall sequence. The regional distribution of Fe- and Mg-rich chlorite, epidote-clinozoisite, biotite-annite, actinolite-hornblende-ferrotschermakite, and stilpnomelane and albite-oligoclase modifies metamorphic isograds and defines discrete vertical fluid pathways controlled by synvolcanic growth faults and associated sill-dike swarms. Silica-enriched hanging-wall alteration zones are proximal to Fe-Ti basalt sills and occur as discrete hanging-wall zones parallel to the plunge of the 62 Mt Flin Flon deposit. Anomalous concentrations of Hg, Sb, Ag, Pb, Te, As, Au, and Bi form within these hanging-wall halo alteration zones, indicating migration of the more volatile metals present in the underlying VMS deposits. Synvolcanic depressions, dike swarms, and hydrothermal-metamorphic fluid corridors are detectable through trace element anomalies, trace mineral chemistry, and 18O isotope geochemistry. Oxygen isotope analysis of the Flin Flon-777-Callinan VMS hanging-wall strata defines a number of high δO18 anomalies extending 1,200 m above that indicate that <300°C subseafloor hydrothermal activity continued after burial of the massive sulfide deposits. Coupled with the geochemical and mineral chemical anomalies, this is indicative of the presence of continued, relatively low temperature hydrothermal fluid “leakage” from a robust seafloor hydrothermal event that generated the VMS deposits.

A combination of techniques, including mineral chemistry, isotope, and trace element data, is demonstrated to be successful in identifying and delineating zones of hanging-wall hydrothermal alteration in greenschist- to amphibolite-grade metamorphic rocks of the Flin Flon mining camp. Use of these, coupled with mapping to define periods of quiescence as marked by horizons of sedimentary rocks in the hanging-wall basalts of the Hidden Formation, has the potential to lead to discovery of deeply buried deposits on the Flin Flon horizon or deposits at higher stratigraphic levels.

Our findings indicate that the basaltic hanging wall on the Flin Flon-777-Callinan hydrothermal system was an efficient cap on the system, with vestiges of continued hydrothermal fluid flow detected in the interpillow and interflow components. These volumetrically minor components are critical sampling media and are pertinent to global exploration for detection of VMS mineralization buried beneath thick mafic volcanic sequences.

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