The relationship between rhyolite geochemistry and volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) mineralization has been proposed as an exploration tool to discriminate prospective felsic volcanic centers. The most widely used classification discriminates between four types of rhyolite: FI, FII, FIIIa, and FIIIb. The FI rhyolites are calc-alkaline, with strongly fractionated REE patterns and strongly negative Ta and Nb anomalies. They are usually considered barren, unless associated with FII or FIII felsic volcanic rocks. The FII rhyolites are calc-alkaline to transitional with moderately fractionated REE patterns and moderate Ta and Nb anomalies. They range from barren to having a high potential to host VMS mineralization. The FIIIa and FIIIb rhyolites are tholeiitic and show weakly fractionated REE patterns and weak to absent Nb and Ta anomalies. They have the highest potential to host VMS mineralization. The FIIIb rhyolites are high-temperature rhyolites with flat REE patterns and no Ta or Nb anomalies.
The Abitibi greenstone belt, especially in Quebec, is well known for its abundant and diverse VMS deposits. Representative samples of VMS-associated rhyolites within and outside of mining districts, including the classic Noranda VMS district, were analyzed for major and trace elements to validate their proposed favorability for hosting VMS deposits. Results indicate that all of the rhyolite types are prospective, but mineralization may differ from the classic Noranda-type VMS deposit. The FI-type rhyolites appear to be particularly associated with gold-rich VMS deposits, such as the world-class Laronde deposit, and are more prospective for Cu-Au replacement and vein-type deposits. The FII-type rhyolites account for about 70 percent of rhyolites in the Abitibi belt. Although considered less prospective, some districts dominated by FII rhyolites, such as Val-d’Or and Selbaie, have collectively produced in excess of 100 million metric tons (Mt) of ore. Deposits in these districts mainly consist of sulfide veins and disseminated ore with low Cu and Zn grades and are associated with abundant and highly vesicular volcaniclastic rocks that display a compositional continuum from andesite to rhyolite. Other weakly mineralized FII districts (e.g., Hunter mine, Gemini-Turgeon) are characterized instead by bimodal flow-dome sequences. The FIIIa-type rhyolites occur mainly in the Noranda district and form flow-dome complexes in bimodal sequences with associated Noranda-type VMS mineralization. In small felsic centers (Joutel, Normétal, Chibougamau, Quévillon) that show a volcanic evolution from FIIIa to FII to FI affinities, VMS deposits are directly associated with FIIIa rhyolites, thus demonstrating the usefulness of rhyolite geochemistry for exploration in these areas. The FIIIb rhyolites are rare in the Abitibi belt, with most occurring in the Matagami district where they are associated with Zn-Cu VMS deposits. Based on this analysis, we suggest that a combination of rhyolite geochemistry, volcanic facies, and style of the mineralization may be more meaningfully applied in exploration than rhyolite type alone, particularly in the case of FI and FII rhyolites.