Alkalic igneous rocks and related concentrations of thorium, niobium, rare-earth elements, titanium, and other elements have long been known in the Powderhorn mining district and have been explored intermittently for several decades. The deposits formed chiefly about 570 m.y. (million years) ago in latest Precambrian or Early Cambrian time. They were emplaced in lower Proterozoic (Proterozoic X) metasedimentary, metavolcanic, and plutonic rocks.
The complex of alkalic rocks of Iron Hill occupies 31 km 2 (square kilometers) and is composed of pyroxenite, uncompahgrite, ijolite, nepheline syenite, and carbonatite, in order of generally decreasing age. Fenite occurs in a zone, in places more than 0.6 km (kilometer) wide, around a large part of the margin of the complex and adjacent to alkalic dikes intruding Precambrian host rock. The alkalic rocks have a radioactivity, chiefly due to thorium, greater than that of the surrounding Powderhorn Granite (Proterozoic X) and metamorphic rocks. The pyroxenite, uncompahgrite, ijolite, and nepheline syenite, which form more than 80 percent of the complex, have fairly uniform radioactivity. Radioactivity in the carbonatite stock, carbonatite dikes, and the carbonatite-pyroxenite mixed rock zone, however, generally exceeds that in the other rocks of the complex.
The thorium concentrations in the Powderhorn district occur in six types of deposits: thorite veins, a large massive carbonatite body, carbonatite dikes, trachyte dikes, magnetite-ilmeniteperovskite dikes or segregations, and disseminations in small, anomalously radioactive plutons chiefly of granite or quartz syenite that are older than rocks of the alkalic complex.
The highest grade thorium concentrations in the district are in veins that commonly occur in steeply dipping, crosscutting shear or breccia zones in the Precambrian rocks. They range in thickness from a centimeter or less to 5 m (meters) and are as much as 1 km long. The thorite veins are composed chiefly of potassic feldspar, white to smoky quartz, calcite, barite, goethite, and hematite, and also contain thorite, jasper, magnetite, pyrite, galena, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, synchysite, apatite, fluorite, biotite, sodic amphibole, rutile, monazite, bastnaesite, and vanadinite. The Th0 2 content of the thorite veins ranges from less than 0.01 percent to as much as 4.9 percent in high-grade samples. The Th0 2 content is generally less than 1 percent, however, and is only 0.05 to 0.1 percent in many of the veins examined in the district.
Samples of the dolomitic carbonatite of Iron Hill mostly range from 3 to 145 ppm (parts per million) thorium. Thirty samples of the carbonatite dikes, the most radioactive rocks within the complex of Iron Hill, contain about 30 to 3,200 ppm thorium and a trace to about 1.5 percent rare-earth oxides.
The magnetite-ilmenite-perovskite rocks have a radioactivity of 2 to 12 times the background of Precambrian granite that is attributable chiefly to thorium substitution for calcium in the perovskite. In two analyses the perovskite contains 0.12 and 0.15 percent Th0 2 .
Trachyte dikes as much as 25 m thick cut the Precambrian rocks; their radioactivity is generally about two to four times the background of typical Precambrian granite, is locally higher, but is low relative to other types of thorium concentrations. A finegrained granite that is anomalously radioactive occurs in thick, dikelike plutons as much as 1.2 km wide, or more. The thorium content varies widely within the granite bodies. Eight samples of the granite contain 32 to 281 ppm thorium (averaging 115 ppm).
The economic potential of thorium in the Powderhorn district is related in part to other elements such as niobium, titanium, iron, and rare earths. The proportions of niobium and rare earths to thorium vary in different parts of the district. Within the carbonatite body of Iron Hill, the Nb 2 0 5 content greatly exceeds Th0 2 , but the Th0 2 -Nb 2 0 5
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Alkalic rocks and resources of thorium and associated elements in the Powderhorn District, Gunnison County, Colorado