Project 600 - Metallogenesis of Collisional Orogens

Earth scientists have recently clearly established that most of the world’s metallic ore deposits were formed during interactions between the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s surface. Furthermore, scientific investigations suggest that the different styles of crustal plate interaction lead to different processes of ore formation, and thus economic concentration of different commodities in different regions. Understanding these relationships is important because it allows for the formulation of models of ore genesis that form the basis for exploration and discovery of new mineral resources. Perhaps the best studied connection between plate interaction and ore genesis is where small crustal blocks (terranes), typically volcanic arcs or micro-continents, are welded onto older crustal blocks, such as in western North America or central Asia. This style of plate interaction, called “accretionary orogenesis” has produced giant deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt, which are generally well understood. In contrast, the formation and distribution of ore deposits related to continent-continent collisions and associated mountain belts are less understood, although such deposits may also contain large mineral resources.

Important continental collision zones with significant ore deposits and additional resource potential include the Himalayan-Tibetan and the Qinling-Dabie orogens in China, and the Variscan orogen of western and central Europe. Of these, the Tibetan-Himalayan belt and its continuation into the Alpine-Tethyan orogenic belt of Pakistan and Iran is the youngest and the most extensive continental collision belt on the planet. The belt contains a variety of geologically young, world-class mineral deposits with variable mineralization styles and commodities, formed in what are relatively clear geodynamic settings. It can, therefore, be regarded as the best natural laboratory on Earth for studying collisional orogeny and formation of related ore deposits.

The main objective of this international research proposal is to establish genetic links between the geodynamic processes that form large collisional orogenic belts and the specific controls on the most important ore deposits. To accomplish this objective, we propose carrying out large-scale syntheses of ore deposits in the Tibetan-Himalayan and Alpine-Tethyan orogenic belts, including comparative studies of key mineral deposits. A main focus of the project is to identify the primary ore controls and processes of ore formation in some of the youngest parts of these belts, where tectonic events can be most easily defined.

This project will propose a new conceptual framework for ore formation in continental collision belts and will provide useful tools for the exploration for new mineral resources in geologically similar, but older, collisional belts elsewhere in the world. In order to accomplish the goals of this proposal, the study will bring together world experts from several countries to work together to build a better understanding of ore-forming processes in a large geographical region with a challenging political diversity.

Societal benefits of the proposal include:

  1. The project will involve leading researchers on tectonics and economic geology from at least seven different developed and developing countries. This will contribute to the cross fertilization of social understanding and cultivate cooperation for many years to come.
  2. The exchange of research ideas, methods, and knowledge of scientists from diverse social and political environments will promote and encourage future cooperation and collaboration on Earth systems. These areas of cooperation will contribute to a better understanding of fundamental Earth systems, such as continental assembly, processes of ore generation, and Earth evolution.
  3. This project will enhance the training of graduate students and young scientists in the cooperating countries.

The results of this study will provide better ore deposit models and increased efficiency in the search for new resources in a world of diminishing natural resources.

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