Various ultramafic Ni-Cu-platinum group element (PGE) deposits associated with the North American Midcontinent rift have been attributed to formation in a magma conduit setting, whereby PGE concentration is controlled by various fluid dynamic processes. The Marathon Cu-PGE sulfide deposit located within the Midcontinent rift-related Coldwell Alkaline Complex has been classified as a gabbro-associated contact-type deposit; however, both magmatic and hydrothermal processes have been proposed to account for the significant concentration of PGE. In light of the growing field of evidence for magma conduit-type settings, this study comprised a comprehensive geochemical investigation of the complicated crosscutting gabbroic to ultramafic units in the immediate vicinity of the Marathon deposit; and a thorough three-dimensional investigation of the distribution of Cu and Pd within the Main mineralized zone. The main objectives of this study were to test the applicability of the magma conduit deposit model to the Marathon deposit and to identify key exploration criteria for use elsewhere in the Coldwell Alkaline Complex.

Mineralization is hosted by the Two Duck Lake gabbro, a 4-km-long and 250-m-thick unit of the Marathon Series. The Marathon Series is the latest of three magmatic series that make up the 1- to 2-km-thick Eastern Gabbro Suite, which wraps around the eastern and northern margin of the Coldwell Alkaline Complex. The three magmatic series are shown here to have distinct trace element signatures that enable reliable discrimination of potentially sulfide and PGE-bearing units of the Marathon Series from the barren rocks of either the Fine-Grained or Layered Series.

At the Marathon deposit, sulfides consist of disseminated chalcopyrite, pyrrhotite, and minor bornite and occur within the Main, Footwall, and Hanging-wall zones and in the PGE-enriched W Horizon. This paper focused on sulfides located within the Main zone, including the keel-shaped feeder channel that continues downdip to over 550-m depth.

The spatial distribution of Cu, Pd, and Cu/Pd were examined in relation to a three-dimensional surface model for the footwall contact; in a vertical profile through the Main zone; and in a longitudinal section that cuts the feeder channel. There are three important observations: (1) trends for elevated Cu and Pd are parallel to numerous troughs and ridges in the footwall, (2) Cu, Pd, and Cu/Pd varies up section in a saw-toothed pattern from high to low values, and (3) the proportion of high Cu/Pd sulfides is greatest within the thickest accumulations of sulfides within the feeder channel.

Evaluation of interelement relationships between Cu and Pd and between Pd and Ir, Rh, Pt, and Au for mineralization within the Main zone indicate positive associative, but nonlinear behavior for all elements. Briefly, the data show nonlinear correlations between Cu and Pd in which Cu/Pd decreases with increasing Pd; and coherent but nonlinear behavior for Ir, Rh, Pt, and Pd in which Pd/Ir, Pd/Rh, Pd/Pt, and Pd/Au all increase with increasing Pd. The observed variation in Cu/Pd is consistent with a magmatic model calculated by others for deposits in the Duluth Complex, in which sulfides accumulated in a closed system from a melt with mantlelike Cu/Pd and an elevated silicate to sulfide ratio. The observed variations in Pd/Ir, Pd/Rh, and Pd/Pt are consistent with R factor fractionation related to differences in the relative partition coefficients between sulfide and silicate melts, and rule out the possibility that processes such as fractionation of sulfide melt by monosulfide solid solution (mss) or redistribution of metals during hydrothermal alteration played a significant role in the mineralizing event.

The Two Duck Lake gabbro and associated sulfides of the Marathon deposit are proposed to have formed by multiple injections of plagioclase crystal mush that carried droplets of sulfide liquid along a conduit system that was controlled by radial and ring fault structures in the Coldwell Alkaline Complex. The accumulation of sulfides was controlled by flow dynamic processes within the magma channels, but Cu/Pd was controlled by local proportions of silicate melt to sulfide liquid. Key characteristics of the deposit that are critical to exploration elsewhere in the Coldwell Alkaline Complex include the following: (1) the recognition that gabbroic to ultramafic intrusions of the Marathon Series are the host for Cu and PGE mineralization, (2) the distribution of Cu/Pd data within sulfide occurrences are useful as vectors toward the feeder channel, (3) topographic lineaments are indicators of potential mineralized feeder zones, and (4) oxide- and apatite-rich, irregularly shaped gabbroic to ultramafic pods are potential indicators of an underlying feeder channel.

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