Sediment-hosted Pb-Zn deposits can be divided into two major subtypes. The first subtype is clastic-dominated lead-zinc (CD Pb-Zn) ores, which are hosted in shale, sandstone, siltstone, or mixed clastic rocks, or occur as carbonate replacement, within a CD sedimentary rock sequence. This subtype includes deposits that have been traditionally referred to as sedimentary exhalative (SEDEX) deposits. The CD Pb-Zn deposits occur in passive margins, back-arcs and continental rifts, and sag basins, which are tectonic settings that, in some cases, are transitional into one another. The second subtype of sediment-hosted Pb-Zn deposits is the Mississippi Valley-type (MVT Pb-Zn) that occurs in platform carbonate sequences, typically in passive-margin tectonic settings.
Considering that the redox state of sulfur is one of the major controls on the extraction, transport, and deposition of Pb and Zn at shallow crustal sites, sediment-hosted Pb-Zn ores can be considered a special rock type that recorded the oxygenation of Earth’s hydrosphere. The emergence of CD and MVT deposits in the rock record between 2.02 Ga, the age of the earliest known deposit of these ores, and 1.85 to 1.58 Ga, a major period of CD Pb-Zn mineralization in Australia and India, corresponds to a time after the Great Oxygenation Event that occurred at ca 2.4 to 1.8 Ga. Contributing to the abundance of CD deposits at ca 1.85 to 1.58 Ga was the following: (1) enhanced oxidation of sulfides in the crust that provided sulfate to the hydrosphere and Pb and Zn to sediments; (2) development of major redox and compositional gradients in the oceans; (3) first formation of significant sulfate-bearing evaporites; (4) formation of red beds and oxidized aquifers, possibly containing easily extractable Pb and Zn; (5) evolution of sulfate-reducing bacteria; and (6) formation of large and long-lived basins on stable cratons.
Although MVT and CD deposits appeared for the first time in Earth history at 2.02 Ga, only CD deposits were important repositories for Pb and Zn in sediments between the Great Oxygenation Event, until after the second oxidation of the atmosphere in the late Neoproterozic. Increased oxygenation of the oceans following the second oxidation event led to an abundance of evaporites, resulting oxidized brines, and a dramatic increase in the volume of coarse-grained and permeable carbonates of the Paleozoic carbonate platforms, which host many of the great MVT deposits. The MVT deposits reached their maximum abundance during the final assembly of Pangea from Devonian into the Carboniferous. This was also a time for important CD mineral deposit formation along passive margins in evaporative belts of Pangea. Following the breakup of Pangea, a new era of MVT ores began with the onset of the assembly of the Neosupercontinent.
A significant limitation on interpreting the secular distribution of the deposits is that there is no way to quantitatively evaluate the removal of deposits from the rock record through tectonic recycling. Considering that most of the sedimentary rock record has been recycled, most sediment-hosted Pb-Zn deposits probably have also been destroyed by subduction and erosion, or modified by metamorphism and tectonism, so that they are no longer recognizable. Thus, the uneven secular distribution of sediment-hosted Pb-Zn deposits reflects the genesis of these deposits, linked to Earth’s evolving tectonic and geochemical systems, as well as an unknown amount of recycling of the sedimentary rock record.