Sulfur and Metal Fertilization of the Lower Continental Crust


Mantle-derived melts and metasomatic fluids are considered to be important in the transport and distribution of trace elements in the subcontinental lithospheric mantle. However, the mechanisms that facilitate sulfur and metal transfer from the upper mantle into the lower continental crust are poorly constrained. This study addresses this knowledge gap by examining a series of sulfide- and hydrous mineral-rich alkaline mafic-ultramafic pipes that intruded the lower continental crust of the Ivrea-Verbano Zone in the Italian Western Alps. The pipes are relatively small (< 300 m diameter) and primarily composed of a matrix of subhedral to anhedral amphibole (pargasite), phlogopite and orthopyroxene that enclose sub-centimeter-sized grains of olivine. The 1 to 5 m wide rim portions of the pipes locally contain significant blebby and disseminated Fe-Ni-Cu-PGE sulfide mineralization.

Stratigraphic relationships, mineral chemistry, geochemical modeling and phase equilibria suggest that the pipes represent open-ended conduits within a large magmatic plumbing system. The earliest formed pipe rocks were olivine-rich cumulates that reacted with hydrous melts to produce orthopyroxene, amphibole and phlogopite. Sulfides precipitated as immiscible liquid droplets that were retained within a matrix of silicate crystals and scavenged metals from the percolating hydrous melt. New high-precision chemical abrasion TIMS U-Pb dating of zircons from one of the pipes indicates that these pipes were emplaced at 249.1 ± 0.2. Ma, following partial melting of lithospheric mantle pods that were metasomatized during the Eo-Variscan oceanic to continental subduction (~ 420-310 Ma). The thermal energy required to generate partial melting of the metasomatized mantle was most likely derived from crustal extension, lithospheric decompression and subsequent asthenospheric rise during the orogenic collapse of the Variscan belt (< 300 Ma).

Unlike previous models, outcomes from this study suggest a significant temporal gap between the occurrence of mantle metasomatism, subsequent partial melting and emplacement of the pipes. We argue that this multi-stage process is a very effective mechanism to fertilize the commonly dry and refractory lower continental crust in metals and volatiles. During the four-dimensional evolution of the thermo-tectonic architecture of any given terrain, metals and volatiles stored in the lower continental crust may become available as sources for subsequent ore-forming processes, thus enhancing the prospectivity of continental block margins for a wide range of mineral systems.


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Ivrea-Verbano Zone; Lamproite magmatism; Magmatic sulfide deposits; Mantle-crust interaction; Volatile and metal mass transfer; Zircon U-Pb dating; continental crust; continental margin; crustal structure; magmatism; mantle chemistry; mantle structure; mass transfer; metal; metasomatism; mineralization; partial melting; sulfide group; sulfur; uranium-lead dating; zircon; Italy; Ivrea-Verbano Zone

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Article - Journal

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© 2016 Elsevier, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Feb 2016