The Pilot Knob Iron Ore Deposits in Southeast Missouri, USA: A High-to-Low Temperature Magmatic-Hydrothermal Continuum


The Mesoproterozoic St. Francois Mountains igneous terrane in southeast Missouri, USA, contains eight major and several minor IOA/IOCG-type deposits. This study focuses on the Pilot Knob deposits, i.e., the largely massive Pilot Knob Magnetite (PKM) deposit and the Pilot Knob Hematite (PKH) deposit, which is located 240 m stratigraphically above the PKM and consists of variably mineralized bedded hematite and ore hosted in brecciated volcanic agglomerates. The PKM deposit was previously shown to be of magmatic and magmatic-hydrothermal origin, although its formation has not been precisely dated. The origin of the PKH deposit (i.e., sedimentary vs. hydrothermal) and its genetic relationship to the PKM, remain controversial.

We present new U-Pb data on apatite intergrown with massive magnetite in the PKM deposit and provide the first precise age for the formation of the PKM ore at 1437.7 ± 5.8 Ma. Petrographic observations of PKH ore, bulk rock compositions, and the mineral chemistry of hematite, which contains up to 2.7% Ti, suggest that the hematite in the PKH deposit crystallized from acidic and hypersaline hydrothermal fluids at a temperature between 200 and 250 °C. The Fe isotopic composition of 9 bedded (δ56Fe = 0.05-0.30‰, average 0.13‰) and 3 brecciated hematite samples (δ56Fe = −0.19 to 0.01‰, average −0.06‰) from the PKH deposit are slightly lighter than the published δ56Fe results of magnetite from the PKM deposit (δ56Fe = 0.06-0.27‰, average 0.17‰). However, all isotopic signatures fall within the magmatic range, indicating that iron in both deposits was originally sourced from a magma. Because of the hydrothermal origin of the PKH deposit, the iron isotopic compositions of the PKM and PKH ores that imply a shared/similar iron source, and the spatial proximity of both deposits, we argue that the PKM and PKH deposits are genetically related and represent two endmembers of a high-to-low temperature magmatic-hydrothermal continuum. In this scenario, ore fluids exsolved from the magma that facilitated the formation of the PKM deposit migrated upwards, infiltrated existing sedimentary structures near the surface, and precipitated hydrothermal hematite ore while preserving the original bedded and brecciated structures.

Geochemical signatures of the rhyolites/rhyodacites that host the PKM deposit imply that these rocks are A2-type felsic rocks that were emplaced in a post-collisional extensional setting. Bulk silicate Earth normalized patterns of the PKM deposit and wall rocks display a negative slope from Cs to Lu with negative Nb and Ta anomalies, indicating a hydrous source for the rhyolites and rhyodacites, possibly a subduction-modified subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM). These geochemical signatures support a proposed tectonic setting of the St. Francois Mountains, wherein the igneous terrane developed on a growing continental margin. Episodic mafic-to-intermediate magmatism, and subsequently exsolved hydrothermal fluids, may have formed the cluster of IOA/IOCG-type deposits in the igneous terrane between ~1500 and ~1440 Ma. Within such a context, the PKM and PKH deposits may represent a shallow, small-scale snapshot of processes similar to the ones that form the IOA-IOCG continuum: a deeper magmatic event that exsolved a hydrothermal fluid that forms an overlying ore body.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Apatite U-Pb geochronology; Critical minerals; IOA/IOCG deposits; Iron isotopes; Sedimentary iron formation; Southeast Missouri

Geographic Coverage

Southeast Missouri

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Article - Journal

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© 2021 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Apr 2021


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