Copper deposits occur in sedimentary and volcanogenic rocks within a wide variety of geologic environments where there may be little or no evidence of hydrothermal alteration. Some deposits may be hypogene and have a deep-seated source for the ore fluids, but because of rapid cooling and dilution during syngenetic deposition on the ocean floor, the resulting deposits are not associated with hydrothermal alteration. Many of these deposits are formed at or near major tectonic features on the Earth's crust, including plate boundaries, rift valleys, and island arcs. The resulting ore bodies may be stratabound and either massive or disseminated.
Other deposits form in rocks deposited in shallow-marine, deltaic, and nonmarine environments by the movement and reaction of interstratal brines whose metal content is derived from buried sedimentary and volcanic rocks. Some of the world's largest copper deposits were probably formed in this manner. This process we regard as diagenetic, but some would regard it as syngenetic, if the ore metals are derived from disseminated metal in the host-rock sequence, and others would regard the process as epigenetic, if there is demonstrable evidence of ore cutting across bedding. Because the oxidation associated with diagenetic red beds releases copper to ground-water solutions, red rocks and copper deposits are commonly associated. However, the ultimate size, shape, and mineral zoning of a deposit result from local conditions at the site of deposition - a logjam in fluvial channel sandstone may result in an irregular tabular body of limited size; a petroleum-water interface in an oil pool may result in a copper deposit limited by the size and shape of the petroleum reservoir; a persistent thin bed of black shale may result in a copper deposit the size and shape of that single bed.
The process of supergene enrichment has been largely overlooked in descriptions of copper deposits in sedimentary rocks. However, supergene processes may be involved during erosion of any primary ore body and its ultimate displacement and redeposition as a secondary deposit. Bleached sandstone at the surface may indicate significant ore deposits near the water table.