Abstract

Cobalt-copper ± gold deposits of the Idaho cobalt belt, including the deposits of the Blackbird district, have been analyzed for their sulfur, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen isotope compositions to improve the understanding of ore formation. Previous genetic hypotheses have ranged widely, linking the ores to the sedimentary or diagenetic history of the host Mesoproterozoic sedimentary rocks, to Mesoproterozoic or Cretaceous magmatism, or to metamorphic shearing. The δ34S values are nearly uniform throughout the Blackbird district, with a mean value for cobaltite (CoAsS, the main cobalt mineral) of 8.0 ± 0.4‰ (n = 19). The data suggest that (1) sulfur was derived at least partly from sedimentary sources, (2) redox reactions involving sulfur were probably unimportant for ore deposition, and (3) the sulfur was probably transported to sites of ore formation as H2S. Hydrogen and oxygen isotope compositions of the ore-forming fluid, which are calculated from analyses of biotite-rich wall rocks and tourmaline, do not uniquely identify the source of the fluid; plausible sources include formation waters, metamorphic waters, and mixtures of magmatic and isotopically heavy meteoric waters. The calculated compositions are a poor match for the modified seawaters that form volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits. Carbon and oxygen isotope compositions of siderite, a mineral that is widespread, although sparse, at Blackbird, suggest formation from mixtures of sedimentary organic carbon and magmatic-metamorphic carbon. The isotopic compositions of calcite in alkaline dike rocks of uncertain age are consistent with a magmatic origin. Several lines of evidence suggest that siderite postdated the emplacement of cobalt and copper, so its significance for the ore-forming event is uncertain. From the stable isotope perspective, the mineral deposits of the Idaho cobalt belt contrast with typical VMS and sedimentary exhalative deposits. They show characteristics of deposit types that form in deeper environments and could be related to metamorphic processes or magmatic processes, although the isotopic evidence for magmatic components is relatively weak.

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