The Anshan-Benxi area in the North China craton has numerous occurrences of Algoma-type banded iron formations (BIFs) with subordinate high-grade magnetite ores. These ores provide insight into iron metallogenesis and early evolution of the North China craton. In this paper, we present Sm-Nd-Fe-O isotope, mineralogical, and structural data for four BIF-type iron deposits to place constraints on their depositional ages and formation mechanism.

Previous SIMS and LA-ICP-MS zircon U-Pb dating results indicated a Mesoarchean age (ca. 3.10 Ga) for the Dagushan BIF and a Neoarchean age (ca. 2.55 Ga) for other regional BIFs (Dai et al., 2012, 2013, 2014).

This is confirmed by Sm-Nd isochron ages of these BIFs, high-grade magnetite ores, and host metavolcanics, which yield two regression lines and match apparent ages of 3149 ± 85 Ma (MSWD = 1.2) for Dagushan, and 2671 ± 120 Ma (MSWD = 3.0) for the other three deposits. Our new chronological data thus suggest Meso- and Neoarchean BIF deposition and potentially significant BIF-type iron deposits at depth.

The regional high-grade magnetite ores are all hosted in the BIFs that occur in the same orientation and have transitional boundaries between them. They also show similar Sm-Nd isotope compositions and magnetite rare earth elements + yttrium (REY) profiles, indicating that the Anshan-Benxi BIFs were most likely the source beds. The high-grade magnetite ores contain abundant pyrite and actinolite, with systematically lower δ56Fe values (0.67–0.40‰) when compared to the BIFs (1.88–0.64‰), suggesting a hydrothermal origin. In the field, some high-grade orebodies with schistose textures are adjacent to undeformed granitic plutons. This geologic relationship implies that the high-grade magnetite ores were formed earlier and probably did not result from magmatic hydrothermal fluids. Therefore we suggest that the Anshan-Benxi high-grade magnetite ores were most likely produced by infiltration of metamorphic fluids into primary BIFs, based on the following: (1) magnetite δ18O values within the high-grade magnetite ores (+2.5 to −0.6‰) are significantly lower than those in the BIFs (9.2–2.6‰); (2) magnetite (avg 0.39 ppm) and pyrite (avg 0.098 ppm) in the high-grade magnetite ores have much lower REY abundances than magnetite in the BIFs (avg 14.6 ppm); (3) skeletal quartz in the high-grade magnetite ores shows systematically higher FeOtolal contents (1.36–0.56 wt %) than those in laminated chert bands (0.06–0.00 wt %); and (4) hydrothermal zircons within the Nanfen BIF yield a U-Pb age of 2480 Ma, which is comparable to ca. 2.48 Ga regional metamorphism (Zhu et al., 2015).

Furthermore, microstructural textures indicate a maximum regional deformation temperature of up to 500°C, which is lower than the plastic flow temperature (>600°C) of magnetite. Finite strain measurements and electron backscatter diffraction analyses suggest a general flattening deformation and similar crystallographic preferred orientation for all magnetite crystals. These structural features reveal that magnetite in the high-grade magnetite ores never experienced a separate tectonic event. Our microscopic studies also show that microfractures at the interfaces of BIF bands contain fragmented quartz crystals and are filled with abundant metamorphic minerals (e.g., actinolite and chlorite). Considering that the Anshan-Benxi high-grade magnetite ores are commonly adjacent to weak structural planes (e.g., faults), we propose that macro- and microscopic fractures probably provided channels for metamorphic fluids.

Recent zircon U-Pb geochronology has indicated widespread BIF formation at ca. 2.55 Ga in the North China craton, corresponding to a pronounced peak in BIF deposition of other Precambrian cratons. It is thus implied that a global geologic event triggered the extensive occurrence of BIFs. We correlate the Neoarchean tectonic evolution of the North China craton with the 2.7 to 2.5 Ga Kenorland supercontinent. Significantly, planar distribution signatures of the North China craton BIFs indicate ca. 2.5 Ga cratonization through the amalgamation of at least seven microblocks that were welded by several Neoarchean greenstone belts. Hf-Nd isotope studies have highlighted the Archean episodic crustal evolution of the North China craton, and the Meso- and Neoarchean BIF deposition could have benefitted from these geologic processes. The Anshan-Benxi high-grade magnetite ores that formed at ca. 2.48 Ga were closely related to important metamorphic events during the North China cratonization process.

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