Abstract

Mineralogical and geochemical studies of strata-bound Fe-Co-Cu-Au-Bi-Y-rare-earth element (REE) deposits of the Idaho cobalt belt in east-central Idaho provide evidence of multistage epigenetic mineralization by magmatic-hydrothermal processes in an iron oxide copper-gold (IOCG) system. Deposits of the Idaho cobalt belt comprise three types: (1) strata-bound sulfide lenses in the Blackbird district, which are cobaltite and, less commonly, chalcopyrite rich with locally abundant gold, native bismuth, bismuthinite, xenotime, allanite, monazite, and the Be-rich silicate gadolinite-(Y), with sparse uraninite, stannite, and Bi tellurides, in a gangue of quartz, chlorite, biotite, muscovite, garnet, tourmaline, chloritoid, and/or siderite, with locally abundant fluorapatite or magnetite; (2) discordant tourmalinized breccias in the Blackbird district that in places have concentrations of cobaltite, chalcopyrite, gold, and xenotime; and (3) strata-bound magnetite-rich lenses in the Iron Creek area, which contain cobaltiferous pyrite and locally sparse chalcopyrite or xenotime. Most sulfide-rich deposits in the Blackbird district are enclosed by strata-bound lenses composed mainly of Cl-rich Fe biotite; some deposits have quartz-rich envelopes.

Whole-rock analyses of 48 Co- and/or Cu-rich samples show high concentrations of Au (up to 26.8 ppm), Bi (up to 9.16 wt %), Y (up to 0.83 wt %), ∑REEs (up to 2.56 wt %), Ni (up to 6,780 ppm), and Be (up to 1,180 ppm), with locally elevated U (up to 124 ppm) and Sn (up to 133 ppm); Zn and Pb contents are uniformly low (≤821 and ≤61 ppm, respectively). Varimax factor analysis of bulk compositions of these samples reveals geochemically distinct element groupings that reflect statistical associations of monazite, allanite, and xenotime; biotite and gold; detrital minerals; chalcopyrite and sparse stannite; quartz; and cobaltite with sparse selenides and tellurides. Significantly, Cu is statistically separate from Co and As, consistent with the general lack of abundant chalcopyrite in cobaltite-rich samples.

Paragenetic relations determined by scanning electron microscopy indicate that the earliest Y-REE-Be mineralization preceded deposition of Co, Cu, Au, and Bi. Allanite, xenotime, and gadolinite-(Y) commonly occur as intergrowths with and inclusions in cobaltite; the opposite texture is rare. Monazite, in contrast, forms a poikiloblastic matrix to cobaltite and thin rims on allanite and xenotime, reflecting a later metamorphic paragenesis. Allanite and xenotime also show evidence of late dissolution and reprecipitation, forming discordant rims on older anhedral allanite and xenotime and separate euhedral crystals of each mineral. Textural data suggest extensive deformation of the deposits by folding and shearing, and by pervasive recrystallization, all during Cretaceous metamorphism. Sensitive high resolution ion microprobe U-Pb geochronology by Aleinikoff et al. (2012) supports these paragenetic interpretations, documenting contemporaneous Mesoproterozoic growth of early xenotime and crystallization of megacrystic A-type granite on the northern border of the district. These ages are used together with mineralogical and geochemical data from the present study to support an epigenetic, IOCG model for Fe-Co-Cu-Au-Bi-Y-REE deposits of the Idaho cobalt belt. A sulfide facies variant of IOCG deposits is proposed for the Blackbird district, in which reducing hydrothermal conditions favored deposition of sulfide minerals over iron oxides. This new model includes Mesoproterozoic vein mineralization and related Fe-Cl metasomatism that formed the biotite-rich lenses, a predominantly felsic magmatic source for metals in the deposits, given their local abundance of Y, REEs, and Be, and a major sedimentary component in the hydrothermal fluids based on independent sulfur isotope and boron isotope data for sulfides and ore-related tourmaline, respectively.

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