By J.Michael O‘Neill
The major emphasis of this project was to extend and refine the known Mesoproterozoic geologic and metallogenic framework of the region along and adjacent to the Idaho-Montana boundary north of the Snake River Plain. The Mesoproterozoic metasedimentary rocks in this part of east-central Idaho host important Cu-Co-Au stratabound mineral resources as well as younger, epigenetic hydrothermal, sulfide base-metal mineral deposits. Two tasks of this study were to more accurately understand and portray the character and origin of cobalt-copper-gold deposits that compose the Idaho cobalt belt and specifically to analyze ore mineralogy and metallogenesis within the Blackbird mining district in the central part of the belt. Inasmuch as the cobalt belt is confined to the Mesoproterozoic Lemhi Group strata of east-central Idaho, geologic investigations were also undertaken to determine the relationship between strata of the Lemhi Group and the more extensive, noncobalt-bearing, Belt-Purcell Supergroup strata to the north and northwest.
Abrupt lateral differences in the character and thickness of stratigraphic units in the Mesoproterozoic Lemhi Basin may indicate differential sedimentation in contemporaneous fault-bounded subbasins. It is suggested that northeast-trending basement faults of the Great Falls tectonic zone controlled development of the subbasins. O‘Neill and others (chapter A, this volume) document a second major basement fault in this area, the newly recognized northwest-striking Great Divide megashear, a zone 1-2 km wide of left-lateral strike-slip faults active during Mesoproterozoic sedimentation and bounding the Cu-Co belt on the northwest. The megashear is a crustal-scale tectonic feature that separates Lemhi Group strata from roughly coeval Belt-Purcell strata to the north and northwest in Montana and northern Idaho.
The results of numerous geologic investigations of the Cu- and Co-bearing Mesoproterozoic rocks of east-central Idaho are integrated and summarized by Bookstrom and others (chapter B, this volume). In particular, their field investigations and analysis of evidence and previous arguments for synsedimentary versus epigenetic mineral deposit types, both of which have been postulated by earlier workers, led them to conclude that both processes were likely instrumental in forming the ore deposits of the Blackbird district.
Finally, this report supplies new data on isotopic ratios of sulfur, oxygen, carbon, and helium in minerals associated with cobalt-bearing ores of the cobalt belt. Slack (chapter C, this volume) identified several previously unrecognized rare-earth-element minerals in Blackbird ores: monazite (Ce,La,Y,Th)PO4, xenotime (YPO4), allanite (CaCe)2(Al,Fe)3Si3O12(OH), and gadolinite (Be2FeY2Si2O10). Light rare-earth elements reside mostly in monazite, whereas yttrium and heavy rare-earth minerals reside mostly in xenotime. Dated monazite, which in the Blackbird district is interstitial to cobaltite, is Cretaceous. This date brings into question the otherwise geologically convincing interpretation of Blackbird ores as being of Mesoproterozoic age and synsedimentary origin.
This volume consists of three summary articles:
A. Great Divide megashear, Montana, Idaho, and Washington: An intraplate crustal-scale shear zone recurrently active since the Mesoproterozoic by J. Michael O‘Neill, Edward T. Ruppel, and David A. Lopez
B. Blackbird Fe-Cu-Co-Au-REE deposits by Arthur A. Bookstrom, Craig A. Johnson, Gary P. Landis, and Thomas P. Frost
C. Geochemical and mineralogical studies of sulfide and iron oxide deposits in the Idaho cobalt belt by John F. Slack