A hydrogeologic model of stratiform copper mineralization in the Midcontinent Rift System, Northern Michigan, USA

J. B. Swenson, Mark Person, J. P. Raffensperger, W. F. Cannon, L. G. Woodruff, M. E. Berndt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


This paper presents a suite of two-dimensional mathematical models of basin-scale groundwater flow and heat transfer for the middle Proterozoic Midcontinent Rift System. The models were used to assess the hydrodynamic driving mechanisms responsible for main-stage stratiform copper mineralization of the basal Nonesuch Formation during the post-volcanic/pre-compressional phase of basin evolution. Results suggest that compaction of the basal aquifer (Copper Harbor Formation), in response to mechanical loading during deposition of the overlying Freda Sandstone, generated a pulse of marginward-directed, compaction-driven discharge of cupriferous brines from within the basal aquifer. The timing of this pulse is consistent with the radiometric dates for the timing of mineralization. Thinning of the basal aquifer near White Pine, Michigan, enhanced stratiform copper mineralization. Focused upward leakage of copper-laden brines into the lowermost facies of the pyrite-rich Nonesuch Formation resulted in copper sulfide mineralization in response to a change in oxidation state. Economic-grade mineralization within the White Pine ore district is a consequence of intense focusing of compaction-driven discharge, and corresponding amplification of leakage into the basal Nonesuch Formation, where the basal aquifer thins dramatically atop the Porcupine Mountains volcanic structure. Equilibrium geochemical modeling and mass-balance calculations support this conclusion. We also assessed whether topography and density-driven flow systems could have caused ore genesis at White Pine. Topography-driven flow associated with the Ottawan orogeny was discounted because it post-dates main-stage ore genesis and because recent seismic interpretations of basin inversion indicates that basin geometry would not be conductive to ore genesis. Density-driven flow systems did not produce focused discharge in the vicinity of the White Pine ore district.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Midcontinent Rift System
  • Ore genesis
  • Paleohydrogeology
  • Stratiform copper deposit


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