Origin of precambrian iron formations

Economic Geology
By:  and 



A statistical study of the chemical composition of the Precambrian iron formations of the Canadian Shield affords a new approach to the origin of these unusual formations. The average total iron content of 2,200 samples from the literature and from unpublished mining company analyses is 26.7 percent Fe. The average Fe content for 16 iron formations in the United States and Canada ranges from 24.5 to 34.1 percent. Low contents of A1203, Ti02, P2O5, and CaO characterize the Precambrian iron formations compared to the relatively large amounts of these constituents in the post-Precambrian iron-bearing sediments. The chemical data emphasize that whereas iron, manganese, and silica were transported and deposited together in the cherty iron formations of the Precambrian, these same elements were chemically differentiated in younger geological time in large but separate deposits of iron and silica. Isotopic age determinations indicate that cherty iron formations were deposited during a long interval of geologic time from approximately 1,700 to 3,000 million years ago. A model is proposed to explain the origin of the iron formations of the Lake Superior type based on the absence or marked deficiency of free oxygen in the atmosphere prior to the Late Precambrian. Lateritic weathering under these conditions permitted the transport of iron and manganese together with silica. The weathered mantle effectively retained aluminum, titanium, phosphorus, and colloidal clay. Graphitic material of biogenic origin is closely associated with the Precambrian iron formations. Although it is uncertain whether iron was precipitated directly through biologic processes, the removal of C02 and the liberation of oxygen to the sea water through photosynthesis of primitive plants undoubtedly influenced the energy relationships among the iron minerals. As a result of the variable conditions the iron formations commonly are characterized by nonequilibrium mineral assemblages. In Late Precambrian time a critical level of free oxygen in the atmosphere was attained permitting a marked acceleration in plant growth and in accretion of oxygen. This stage in the development of an oxygenated atmosphere was reached at least 1,200 million years ago and effectively curtailed the development of cherty iron formations of the Lake Superior type.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Origin of precambrian iron formations
Series title Economic Geology
DOI 10.2113/gsecongeo.59.6.1025
Volume 59
Issue 6
Year Published 1964
Language English
Publisher Society of Economic Geologists
Description 36 p.
First page 1025
Last page 1060
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details