This review of the South Pennine Orefield (SPO) draws together the findings from many years of underground field observations and petrographical study. Mineralization is of the Mississippi Valley-type (MVT) and is concentrated within an area of some 200 km2, mainly along the eastern margins of a large inlier, the Derbyshire High, in Carboniferous platform carbonate host rocks. The inlier covers some 390 km2, forms an up-dip promontory of a larger structure, the East Midlands Shelf, and is surrounded by shales and sandstones of the Millstone Grit and Pennine Coal Measures groups. Mineralization probably began during the late Westphalian (Moscovian, Mid Pennsylvanian), when subsidence due to thermal sag resulted in the limestone being buried to depths of c. 4 km beneath younger strata. A palaeohydraulic reconstruction is presented from analysis of mineralized palaeokarst features, which are interpreted as representing hypogenic or deep-seated karst formed by the interstratal circulation of hydrothermal water in a mostly confined hydrodynamic setting. It is reasoned that Variscan inversion of N–S faults to the east of the SPO resulted in erosion of Namurian and Westphalian (Upper Mississippian–Middle Pennsylvanian) rocks and created a hydraulic gradient inclined towards the south-west. Acidic F-Ba-Pb-Zn enriched fluid evolved in the Namurian basinal rocks and migrated into fractured limestone. The resultant wall-rock dissolution along existing wrench faults led to the formation of a maze of stratiform mineral deposits (flats) and more irregular spongework-shaped structures (pipes). The presence of hydrocarbon accumulations in the limestones and evidence from fluid inclusions indicates that the mineralizing fluids were chloride/fluoride-rich and compositionally typical of oilfield brine. Isotope evidence demonstrates a sulphate evaporite source of sulphur, mainly from the Chadian (Visean, Middle Mississippian) Middleton Anhydrite Formation. By the late Cenozoic, karstification of exposed carbonate rocks began and the current pattern of epigenic karst drainage started to develop as the regional hydraulic gradient reversed, assuming its present eastward inclined attitude. The mineralized hypogenic karst was overprinted by later drainage systems as the hydraulic gradient changed, and placer deposits were formed from the erosion of existing mineralization. This was accompanied by circulation of meteoric water and resulted in the supergene weathering of the sulphide ore minerals. Eastward underflow of meteoric groundwater also exploited the same mineralization flow paths. There is evidence that pre-mineralization hypogenic karst was also significant in the formation of orebodies in the North Pennine Orefield and the Halkyn–Minera Orefield of NE Wales.

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