Cu and Ni isotope variations of country rock-hosted massive sulfides located near midcontinent rift intrusions

Joshua M. Smith, Edward M. Ripley, Chusi Li, Laura E. Wasylenki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Previous Cu isotope work has documented a clear disparity between d65Cu values of sheet-style (-0.5 to 0.5‰) and conduit-style (0.5-2.0‰) intrusions associated with the Midcontinent rift system. The application of metal isotopes to the study of magmatic Ni-Cu-platinum group element (PGE) deposits is in an early stage, and very little is known regarding isotope distributions and mechanisms of fractionation at high temperatures. In order to resolve the previously mentioned Cu isotope disparity, to determine metal sources for the intrusions, and to assess sources of high-temperature metal isotope fractionation, we have measured Cu and Ni isotope ratios from a suite of exceptionally well characterized Ni-Cu-PGE massive sulfides that occur in sedimentary country rocks near intrusions within the Midcontinent rift system in Michigan and Minnesota. Previous mineralogic and S, Pb, and Os isotope measurements indicate that the massive sulfides are of magmatic origin and provide a framework for the interpretation of the Cu and Ni isotope data in terms of magmatic processes, including assimilation of Proterozoic country rocks. Copper and Ni isotope ratios were determined for massive sulfides as well as local sedimentary sulfides, and these results were compared with available Cu and Ni isotope results of magmatic and sedimentary sulfides in the Midcontinent Rift and elsewhere. Nickel isotope ratios of the sulfides have been modeled in terms of the effects of variable silicate/sulfide ratios, or R-factors (the mass ratio of silicate magma to sulfide magma), crustal contamination, and olivine fractional crystallization. The near-zero and slightly negative d60Ni values of country rock-hosted magmatic sulfides (-0.45 to 0.17‰) near Tamarack and Eagle can be explained by minor degrees of crustal contamination of a mantle-derived melt at variable R-factors. Igneous-sourced, Cu-poor sulfides from below the Partridge River intrusion generally have lower d60Ni values (-0.77 to -0.52‰) that require substantially more contamination from a low d60Ni source, similar to some of the local sedimentary rocks. Copper isotope ratios of country rock-hosted massive sulfides near Eagle and Tamarack are lower than those reported by previous workers and are mostly about 0‰, similar to those expected for unaltered mantle. Tamarack samples require very little crustal contamination to explain their isotope ratios, whereas Eagle samples require no contamination from local sedimentary rocks to explain their Cu isotope compositions. Copper isotope ratios of samples beneath the Partridge River intrusion are similar to those from previous analyses of igneous-hosted sulfides, supporting their origin from a magmatic sulfide liquid. The low d65Cu values (-1.14 to 0.25‰) from samples below the Partridge River intrusion cannot be explained by contamination from the Virginia and Thomson Formations, which are characterized by mostly positive δ65Cu values (-0.33 to 3.12‰), unless a lighter reservoir remains to be discovered in the local Proterozoic rocks. We suggest these values may have been produced by a combination of incomplete sulfide melting during partial melt generation and fractionation related to sulfide segregation at variable R-factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-211
Number of pages17
JournalEconomic Geology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Economic Geology


Dive into the research topics of 'Cu and Ni isotope variations of country rock-hosted massive sulfides located near midcontinent rift intrusions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this