Cu – The Finale

(NOTE:  I would like to thank Chris @ Highly Allochthonous for giving me this opportunity to cross-post a favorite sedimentary-stratigraphy class project (from 2007) on Earth Science Erratics.  All mistakes are mine and I welcome comments.  ESE is a great venue for up-and-coming geo-bloggers and I look forward to new and exciting posts from varied contributors as the site grows).

For this third and final post in my WATCH FOR ROCKS mini-series on copper mineralization and skarn, I pose a thought-provoking fifth question:

Is there anyone left in the building?

No, wait.  That was the fourth-and-a-half question.  Here is the final fifth:

What are the relationships between copper and other minerals such as chalcopyrite, cuprite, chrysocolla, bornite, malachite, and azurite, magnetite, and hematite, among others?

First, a word or two (I am not making these up!) about hypogene and supergene processes…

Primary minerals are those that form by the combination of elements rather than by alteration of a mineral.  Primary or hypogene minerals in a hydrothermal system can be extensively altered when exposed to oxygen in the near-surface environment.

Pyrite crystals

— Pyrite (FeS2), reacting with oxygenated groundwater, will form iron hydroxides and release the sulfur as sulfuric acid.

— Chalcopyrite (CuFeS2),  reacting with dissolved atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide, can produce cuprite (Cu2O) and siderite (FeCO3).

— Chalcocite (Cu2S) commonly forms from the alteration of primary copper minerals that are attacked above the water table by oxygen.

The net result of these and related reactions is to oxidize the metals found in the sulfides to form oxides, hydroxides, carbonates, and sulfates.  Because these reactions produce oxygen-bearing minerals at the expense of sulfides, the near surface zone is often referred to as the oxidized zone and the minerals produced are called supergene or secondary minerals.

Next is a simple listing of mineral names with each appropriate chemical formula.   These formulas tie a nice neat bow on the whole copper mineralization concept.  I hope you agree!

Common sulfide ores for copper include:

— Bornite – Cu5FeS4, Copper Iron Sulfide

— Chalcocite – Cu2S, Copper Sulfide

— Chalcopyrite – CuFeS2, Copper Iron Sulfide – the most common ore.

— Covellite – CuS, Copper Sulfide – an excellent ore of copper when available in economic amounts.

Aurichalcite

Copper carbonates include:

— Aurichalcite – (Zn, Cu)5(CO3)2(OH)6, Zinc Copper Carbonate Hydroxide – forms in the oxidation zones of zinc-copper deposits where it is deposited by circulating fluids of carbonate-rich solutions.

Azurite

— Azurite – Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2, Copper Carbonate Hydroxide  – considered a minor ore of copper, mostly because it is found associated with other more valuable copper ores.

Outer Malachite w/ inner Chrysacolla

— Malachite – Cu2(CO3)(OH)2, Copper Carbonate Hydroxide

Copper oxides include:

— Cuprite – Cu2O, Copper Oxide - Of all the copper ores except for native copper, cuprite gives the greatest yield of copper per molecule since there is only one oxygen atom to every two copper atoms.

Cuprite is found in the near-surface oxidized portion of copper-bearing hydrothermal sulfide deposits.  It generally is produced by the alteration and oxidation of primary sulfide minerals such as chalcopyrite.

Copper silicates include:

— Chrysocolla – (Cu,Al)2H2Si2O5(OH)4· nH2O, Hydrous Copper Silicate – found in the oxidation zone of copper deposits; associated with azurite, malachite, and cuprite.  It is an important surface indicator pinpointing the presence of disseminated copper deposits (porphyry copper ore).  However, it is not an important copper ore.

Iron oxides include:

— Magnetite – Fe+2Fe+32O4 – plentiful in skarns – in a metamorphic environment it is formed by reduction of hematite derived from the dissociation of sulfides and iron silicates.

— Hematite – Fe2O3forms under oxidizing conditions – remains stable in a low-temperature metamorphic environment where it often replaces magnetite.

To Sum Up ~~~

There are several possible sources of copper mineralization in skarns:

— It is uncertain whether the copper mineralization in the skarn came from the quartz monzonite itself or whether in the act of the skarn formation the limestones were altered in such a way as to produce the mineralization.

— Fracturing of the crust enabled hypogene or metasomatic mineralizing fluids to bring in copper and other metals from sources deeper in the earth.  This could be an undiscovered porphyry deposit or some other unknown source.

— Additionally, the copper atoms may have been transported (from somewhere) by ionic diffusion to ultimately bind with the sulfur atoms.

Thinking of prospecting for Cu?

— Ore bodies will have a layer of chalcocite which corresponds to the present or a past water table level and this layer is called a “chalcocite blanket”. The chalcocite blanket is richer in copper than the upper oxidized portion of the ore body and usually richer than the primary unaltered ores below. The chalcocite blanket represents a real “gold mine” to the copper prospectors.

— Look for the chrysocolla.

Cocktail party trivia:

— The Copper Age of Europe and the Middle East began around 4000 BC., a transition period as Neolithic stone tools gave way to the Bronze Age.

— Artifacts recovered from The Old Copper Complex of the western Great Lakes region have been carbon-dated at 1000-4000 BC.  Ninety-nine percent pure copper was discovered in the Lake Superior basin in vein form and in the form of nuggets in glacial outwash gravel beds.

— Native copper (copper found in a chemically uncombined state) was mined for centuries and now is all but depleted as an economically viable ore. Other copper minerals are far more economical to mine and purify into metallic copper that is used for wiring, electrical components, pennies and other coins, tubing and many other applications.

Cu

Selected References:

Mottano, A., Crespi, R., Liborio, G., (1978), Simon & Schuster’s Guide to Rocks & Minerals

Wray, W.B., 2006, Mines and Geology of the Rocky and Beaver Lake Districts, Beaver County, Utah in Bon, R.L., Gloyn, R.W., and Park, G.M., editors, Mining Districts of Utah:  Utah  Geological Association Publication 32, p. 183-285.

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Nina Fitzgerald

About Nina Fitzgerald

With a nod to John Prine, Nina Fitzgerald is currently “swinging the world by the geological tail, bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues.” A few years ago she left a 20-year sucking-the-life-out-of-me career, obtained a BS in geology, and has been loving life ever since. She lives in the geological paradise of southwest Utah and is currently on a mission to continue working as a seasonal park ranger for the National Park Service. Nina has her own blog at Watch for Rocks.
Categories: Ore geology, Rocks & minerals
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Comments (10)

  1. Scott Harper says:

    Dr. Fitzgerald,

    I am an aspiring geologist and am in the midst of a project. I found this website by researching a list of copper minerals found in the hypogene and supergene zones of a porphyry copper deposit. I am confused about what copper minerals are found in either zone. Can you shed some light on this situation on some common copper minerals found in both zones? Thank you for all your help.

    Scott Harper

    • Nina Fitzgerald Nina Fitzgerald says:

      Scott -
      I’m glad you found the website! Let me first say that I am in no way a Dr. Fitzgerald, though. I have a BS in geology and love to research and blog on geological topics. It’s what keeps me learning.
      So,,, your question is “What copper minerals are found in either zone?”
      Yikes!
      I have just a couple of examples from the post. Like I said in my first post of this series on copper mineralization – I have to read this stuff a couple dozen times, and I wrote it!

      Primary or hypogene Pyrite (FeS2), reacting with oxygenated groundwater, will form iron hydroxides and release the sulfur as sulfuric acid. However, I did not have in my notes what specifically are the iron hydroxides that form.

      Also, Chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), reacting with dissolved atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide, can produce cuprite (Cu2O) and siderite (FeCO3).

      However, Cuprite (Cu2O, Copper Oxide) is found in the near-surface oxidized portion of copper-bearing hydrothermal sulfide deposits. It generally is produced by the alteration and oxidation of primary sulfide minerals such as chalcopyrite.

      Because this reaction produces an oxygen-bearing mineral (the cuprite) at the expense of sulfides (the chalcopyrite), the near surface zone is often referred to as the oxidized zone and the minerals produced are called supergene or secondary minerals.
      So, cuprite would be a supergene or secondary mineral.

      Here are a couple of websites I found that could be really helpful with more detailed information for you:

      This site has a good diagram about the leached zone and the enriched zone.

      Also, check out Larry Meinart’s skarn website for helpful information.

      I hope this makes sense!

      • Nina Fitzgerald Nina Fitzgerald says:

        Scott – Another quick thought from looking over my notes and the 2 websites. It looks like the iron hydroxides formed from pyrite reacting with oxygenated groundwater would be hematite and goethite and ultimately limonite.

        Anyone else out there reading this, feel free to jump in and comment!

  2. Bob says:

    What about copper wad. Which I saw a lot of in a small open pit near Yearington Nevada. It’s a black fine grained material which is rich in copper. I don’t know anything about its mineralogy.

    • Nina Fitzgerald Nina Fitzgerald says:

      Bob – I am unfamiliar with copper wad. What is it, exactly? I am not a mining geologist by any means, so there is a lot I am unfamiliar with!

      • Bob says:

        I gather it’s a common thing to find in the supergene oxide ore zone of copper porphyrys. Nobody I talked to seemed to know it’s mineralogy, although they all knew it was good stuff to find. A bit of googling found the description “copper-bearing manganese oxyhydrates”.

        Its flat black and really stands out in a cliff face of pink white and gray rock stained with green and blue.

  3. Mikes says:

    I really like this site, I am a geologist and it is kind of refreshing.

    Keep it up

  4. Mikes says:

    can cuprite occur in hypogene zone?

  5. Mehrnoosh says:

    Hello dear Nina,
    I am a mining engineer and also a geologist field, but I am beginner and not familiar with some subjects.I am working on a project about Super-gene and Hypo-gene Porphyry systems and leaching zone in this systems. Would you please help me with this subjects?
    Best Regards
    Mehrnoosh

  6. More Info says:

    I was just searching for this info for a while. After six hours of continuous Googleing, finally I got it in your site. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that do not rank this kind of informative websites in top of the list. Usually the top web sites are full of garbage.

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