Earthquake-induced clastic dyke and fluid inflow at the Miguel Burnier manganese-ore deposit, Quadrilátero Ferrífero of Minas Gerais, Brazil


A clastic dyke has been recognised within manganese (Mn)-rich Cenozoic sediments near a historical Mn-ore deposit in the Miguel Burnier district, Quadrilátero Ferrífero, in the southern São Francisco craton, Brazil. Here, we describe the clastic dyke, a subvertical fissure that is filled with friable arenaceous fragments, and characterise it as seismite. An overprint by stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets and Mn-oxide dissemination, mineralogically expressed as birnessite, lithiophorite and jianshuiite, and geochemically represented by metalliferous enrichments, particularly mercury (Hg), occurs in the clastic dyke and its immediate vicinity. Such an overprint also contains illite, which forms a mineral association with birnessite, lithiophorite and jianshuiite, and constrains the temperature of hydrothermal alteration to less than 300 °C. The recognition of seismite and its Hg enrichment indicate that the Cenozoic history of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero cratonic terrane has been affected by seismic episodes, which were not only conducive to local enrichment in Mn at Miguel Burnier, but also to recent seismic-related phenomena such as a dam failure (Agurto-Detzel et al. in GRL 43: 4929–4936, 2016).


Earthquakes are not only marked by sudden brittle failure of rock masses that occasionally causes devasting effects on human communities, but also by certain features that can be preserved in the geological record. As brittle fracturing is a recurrent process associated with cracking and sealing that involves fault-channelled fluid inflow, its preservation in the geological record can be manifested in the form of metalliferous concentrations of economic significance [1,2,3]. In addition, recognising earthquake-related features, deformation structures of seismic origin in rocks and soft sediments, is the fundamental course of action in palaeoseismological analysis [4, 5].

Deformation structures that are genetically related to earthquakes, notwithstanding the caveats highlighted by Shanmugam [6], are known as seismites, a term that was originally proposed by Seilacher [7, 8]. The identification of seismites is challenging. Where firmly recognised, however, a seismite does mainly indicate the seismotectonic character of a region [9,10,11,12]. Particularly challenging is the identification of seismite in tropical regions, where deep weathering obscures geological structures [13]. This is the case of lateritic covers on tectonically stable cratonic terranes.

The cratonic terrane of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero, located in the southernmost part of the São Francisco craton [14], is one of the most geologically investigated regions in the world Fig. 1. While much attention has been dedicated to the Precambrian tectonics of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero [15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22], only a few authors have carried out tectonic studies involving small Cenozoic basins, a few km across, which are sparsely distributed in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero [23,24,25,26,27,28]. The opening of such sedimentary basins over the Precambrian terrane of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero indicates that the region was tectonically, and perhaps seismically, active in the Cenozoic. Evidence for hodiern seismic activity comes from small-magnitude earthquakes that have been registered in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero. Agurto-Detzel et al. [29] related the dam failure of mine tailings and subsequent flood in Mariana, 80 km NE of our study area at Miguel Burnier, on the 5 November 2015, to several earthquakes of small magnitude, from 1.3 to 2.6 to 3.5-magnitude earthquake took place on the 25 November 2019, the epicentre of which was 25 km W of Miguel Burnier [30].

Fig. 1

Simplified geological map of Quadrilátero Ferrífero [35, 79], with emphasis on the distribution of canga plateaux and Cenozoic basins. The study area, Miguel Burnier, is located in the western extreme of the Dom Bosco syncline, the southern border of which is marked by the Engenho strike-slip fault

Here, we report the finding of a clastic dyke that is incised into an unmetamorphosed sediments of a Cenozoic basin in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero. The clastic dyke is located near a historical Mn-ore deposit in the Miguel Burnier district in Ouro Preto, the first and largest Mn-ore mining site in Brazil in the period from the late-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century [31,32,33]. We characterise the clastic dyke as seismite, its associated metalliferous mineralisation, and discuss its implications.

Geological setting

The structural framework of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero resulted from two main deformational events, the Transamazonian and the Brasiliano [17, 34]. The former was an extensional event of Palaeoproterozoic age, between 2.1 and 1.7 Ga, which is thought to have led to the emplacement of Archaean granite–gneiss domes and the nucleation of regional synclines and fault systems, comprising supracrustal rocks of the Rio das Velhas Supergroup and the Minas Supergroup [35]. Relevant to this study are the Dom Bosco syncline and the Engenho strike-slip fault [31, 36]. The second event was compressive and marked the closure of the Pan-African/Brasiliano proto-ocean (0.65–0.50 Ga). The Brasiliano event is mainly recorded in the eastern border of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero as a west-verging, fold-and-thrust belt [17, 34]. The aforementioned structural development is, nevertheless, not consensual. For different views, see for instance Hippertt and Davis [37] and Endo et al. [38].

Cenozoic basins are sparsely distributed in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero [35, 39, 40]. They are small graben-like basins, reaching a few km across, in which sediments accumulated over Precambrian rocks, from the Late Eocene to the Early Miocene (Lima and Salard-Cheboldaeff [41], [40]. Many Cenozoic basins are located in Precambrian rocks of the Itabira Group of the Minas Supergroup [35], previously known as the Itabira iron formation [42]. The Itabira Group consists of itabirite—i.e. a metamorphosed, banded Fe-oxide-rich rock, which grades upwards to dolomitic rocks.

One of such Cenozoic basins is the Fonseca basin, located in the eastern border of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero Fig. 1. There, normal faults were observed in Oligocene–Miocene sediments [28, 43]. Importantly, clastic dykes were recorded in Quaternary sediments covering the Fonseca basin—i.e. a plateau of conglomeratic deposits of itabirite-derived ironstone pebbles, cemented by Fe oxyhydroxide [28].


Samples collected during fieldwork were dried in a furnace at 60 °C, crushed and ground in an agate mill. Their powders were then investigated by X-ray diffraction (XRD), using a RIGAKU X-ray diffractometer, model D\MAX ULTIMA IV, housed at CDTN (Centro de Desenvolvimento da Tecnologia Nuclear). The instrument operated from 4° to 80° (2θ angle) at 40 kV and 30 mA, and goniometer speed of 4°2θ/min. Mineral identification was carried out following the database of the International Centre for Diffraction Data and the Joint Committee on Powder Diffraction Standards—JCPDS. Diffractograms and XRD tables are presented in the Electronic Supplementary Material.

Samples were also measured for As, Ag, Cd, Sb, Te, Hg, Pt, Au, Pb and Pd at Bureau Veritas Commodities Canada Ltd., Vancouver, by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP–MS), following aqua regia.

Study area and results

A dyke-like structure occurs 1 km W of the historical Mn-ore mining area in the Miguel Burnier district Fig. 1(UTM coordinates: 23K 628307; 7739935). The historical mining focussed on Mn ore that was believed to be a residual deposit, derived from the weathering of Precambrian dolomite and manganiferous itabirite Fig. 2, [33]. However, our field observations in the remains of the historical mining area have indicated that the Mn ore was hosted in Cenozoic sediments. The dyke-like structure is subvertical, incised into Mn-rich mudstone of a Cenozoic basin Fig. 3a. The 1.3-m-wide dyke is made up of pebble-to-boulder-sized fragments of friable sandstone, which consists essentially of medium-to-coarse-grained quartz sand, with some illite, rutile and hematite. The dyke walls are approximately planar, trending N80E and slightly funnelling downward. Its exposure is roughly cuneiform within a collapsed Mn-rich mudstone wall rock Fig. 3b.

Fig. 2

Geological section of the Miguel Burnier mine according to Scott [33]. Manganese-ore mining targeted on a bed of variable thickness, the average of which was 3 m. It was mainly composed of hard metallic and soft and hydrated Mn ore (4). The metallic ore made up, on average, 80% of the bed. It occurred as lenses or irregular bodies. The ore seam was underlain by earthy and impure Fe ore and Mn ore, up to 24 m in thickness (3), and overlain by a body of pure hematite, known as jacutinga, and itabirite (6). Above the itabirite there was grey limestone (7), and below the earthly material, there was white limestone (2). Iron-ore conglomerate and duricrust (5) partially covered the previously described rocks

Fig. 3

a Schematic geological model depicting the clastic dyke emphasising its diagnostic attributes. b Photograph, looking 176°, of a subvertical fissure that is filled with fragments of friable sandstone, incised into Mn-rich mudstone. c Zoomed-in photograph towards 030° of the site indicated in a, showing a fragment of friable sandstone that is cross-cut by a Mn-oxide vein (v). The latter cements sandstone fragments within the clastic dyke. Stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets occur in the immediate vicinity of a brecciated sandstone fragment (upper right). d Photographic detail, looking 113°, of the site marked in a, displaying an approximately 20-cm-thick zone of Mn-oxide dissemination as a dark-brown matrix (in shades of grey), with whitish veinlets of illite and quartz. e Photographic close-up towards 176° of the site labelled in a to illustrate a whitish zone rich in illite

The clastic dyke truncates Mn-rich mudstone underneath a lateritic cover of canga—i.e. a ferruginous duricrust. The Mn-rich mudstone is a fine-grained rock consisting of clay and silt-sized particles of hydrous Mn oxide, hematite, kaolinite and quartz. Sandstone lenses occur within the Mn-rich mudstone. An interlocking network of Mn-oxide veinlets, resembling stockwork, occurs in the clastic dyke and its immediate vicinity. Stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets are spatially associated with brecciated arenaceous fragments within the dyke Fig. 3c. The Mn-oxide veinlets are made up of birnessite, lithiophorite, illite and jianshuiite, and minor quartz and hematite. The central part of the clastic dyke has an approximately 20-cm-thick Mn-oxide dissemination zone, in which fine-grained Mn oxide is disseminated, yielding a dark-brown matrix with whitish veinlets Fig. 3d. The matrix of the Mn-oxide dissemination has birnessite, jianshuiite, quartz, rutile and minor hematite, whereas the whitish veinlets comprise illite and quartz. Besides the Mn-oxide dissemination, the dyke infill displays whitish-grey shades that extend about 20 cm Fig. 3e. This whitish-grey zone has illite and quartz as the main constituents, and minor amounts of lithiophorite and birnessite. Slickenside striae on the SE-dipping wall of the dyke are oriented at 120°/33° and 065°/30° Fig. 4.

Fig. 4

Photograph of an oriented sample taken from the contact between the dyke and its wall rock. Arrows indicate slickenside lineation at the contact with the clastic dyke. The lineation plunge varies from 120°/33° to 065°/30° on the slickenside, the orientation of which is 127°/30°. Labels wr and d stand for wall rock and clastic dyke, respectively

Table 1 displays the results of reconnaissance whole-rock chemical analyses for Sb, Hg, As, Cd, Te, Pb and precious metals within the clastic dyke and its vicinity. Compared to the upper continental crust (UCC, [44, 45]), the clastic dyke and the surrounding stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets and Mn-oxide dissemination have enrichments in Au, Hg, Te and Sb, which reach between 10 and 100 times, whereas Cd attains its maximum between 100 and 1000 times Fig. 5.

Table 1 Chemical analyses for Sb, Hg, As, Cd, Te, Pb and precious metals at the clastic dyke and its immediate vicinity
Fig. 5

Plot of precious metals, Sb, As, Hg, Cd, Te and Pb, normalised to the upper continental crust (UCC), in rock samples from the clastic dyke and its immediate vicinity, Miguel Burnier. It is notable that the Hg and Te reach 1778 ppb and 0.38 ppm, respectively, within the zone of stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets and Mn-oxide dissemination. Cadmium has up to 35 ppm in the stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets. Antimony attains 40 ppm in the zone of Mn-oxide dissemination. All UCC values, excepting Te, are from Hu and Gao [44], average UCC value for Te comes from Wedepohl [45]


The dyke-like structure found at Miguel Burnier resembles that of a clastic dyke, which represents infilling of open fissures, either by gravity or tectonic stretching. Clastic dykes, also known as sedimentary dykes, are categorised as: (a) neptunian dykes, which are fissures that are filled with superficial material [46], and (b) intrusion dykes, the infilling material of which comes from below. Both categories are seismically induced [47,48,49]. Clastic dykes have thus been characterised as seismites [49].

It is difficult to reconcile the straight contacts and the cuneiform cross section of the Miguel Burnier clastic dyke with a non-seismic slope process such as creep. Field evidence suggests that sandstone fragments and arenaceous material collapsed from the surface into a vertical fissure that was tectonically open, as indicated by slickenside grooves Figs. 2a and 3. The latter are indicators of seismic slip [50]. Furthermore, the groove lineation of Fig. 3 plunges from 120°/33° to 065°/30°, pointing to an oblique strike-slip component of movement. Such a strike-slip component can tentatively be understood as reactivation of the Engenho strike-slip fault in the vicinity of Miguel Burnier Fig. 1, [31, 37, 51], in a way similar to the reactivation of the Água Quente fault system, as suggested to the deformational and hydrothermal overprint on Cenozoic sediments in the eastern Quadrilatero Ferrifero [28, 34, 52].

Another line of evidence that favours a seismogenic nature for the clastic dyke is the overprint of the dyke infill by stockwork-like Mn-oxide veinlets and Mn-oxide dissemination [53,54,55]. Manganese-oxide minerals such as birnessite, lithiophorite and jianshuiite are known from low-temperature hydrothermal systems [56,57,58,59,60,61]. The dyke infill and wall-rock overprint also contains illite, which is a low-temperature hydrothermal mineral formed below 300 °C [62,63,64]. Interestingly, illitisation as a low-temperature hydrothermal overprint is recorded from Cenozoic sediments in the eastern part of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero at Cata Preta Fig. 1, [52].

Additionally, reconnaissance whole-rock chemical analyses identified a remarkable enrichment in mercury (Hg). According to Yangfen et al. [65] and Zhang et al. [66], Hg becomes so distinctly elevated in groundwater during earthquakes that Hg can be used as an indicator of seismic activity. Furthermore, Hg and Sb are known to be typically enriched in hot-spring deposits. Their enrichment in the Mn-oxide veinlets is comparable to those found in modern hot springs [56, 67,68,69]. Such enrichments suggest that the clastic dyke was formed due to seismic rupturing followed by fluid inflow, hydrothermally overprinting the Cenozoic sediments within the dyke and its surroundings.

The recognition of hydrothermal overprint on Cenozoic sediments following seismic rupturing might provide an alternative interpretation to some mineral occurrences in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero, such as the cinnabar of Tripuí ecological station in Ouro Preto, 30 km E of the clastic dyke described here. There, cinnabar was observed in gravels cemented by limonite and pyrolusite [70]. Elsewhere in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero, considerable amounts of Hg have been recognised Mn-oxide-rich rocks in weathered profiles with fault-related fabrics [53, 54], and also in brittle fractures that are healed by Mn oxides containing Hg [71]. Both occurrences can be explained by deformational and hydrothermal activity during the Cenozoic.

The mudstone wall rock of the clastic dyke is analogous to that attributed to Cenozoic sediments elsewhere in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero [31, 40, 43, 53, 72]. Palynological studies of other Cenozoic sedimentary basins, such as the Fonseca and Gandarela basins Fig. 1, [40, 41], suggest that the sedimentation at Miguel Burnier is no older than the Late Eocene. It can thus be inferred that the clastic dyke is no older than ca. 38 Ma. Radiogenic dating of goethite that cements lateritic cover of canga indicates (U–Th)/He ages from 48 to < 2 Ma [73]. It means that the seismically induced fissure responsible for the clastic dyke was coeval with the prolonged history of deep lateritic weathering in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero [73, 74].

Deep lateritic weathering in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero is topographically expressed as canga plateaux. It is pertinent to point out that much of the topography of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero region, in particular its canga plateaux, has been attributed to extensional tectonics [28, 75]. The regional topography of the Quadrilátero Ferrífero and its drainage systems are thought to have resulted from tectonically uplifted and depressed blocks [28, 76]. Such lines of evidence further support the characterisation of the clastic dyke as seismite. Present-day seismicity has been recorded in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero and its surroundings [29, 77, 78].

Combined with hodiernal seismicity, which was conducive to the catastrophic dam failure on the 5 November 2015 [29], the earthquake-induced dyke indicates that the Quadrilátero Ferrífero has seismically been active since the Late Eocene. It further indicates that hydrothermal overprint of low temperature yielded local concentration of Mn at Miguel Burnier. Local concentration of Mn and other metals, notably Hg, has recently been documented elsewhere in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero and related to seismic rupturing and fluid inflow [53, 54].


A subvertical fissure that is filled with sandstone fragments occurs at Miguel Burnier, a historical site of Mn-ore mining in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero. The fissure is as clastic dyke, formed in response to seismic rupturing. The clastic dyke and its vicinity have metalliferous enrichments (Mn, Hg, Sb, Cd and Te). Earthquake-induced fluid inflow could have played some role in the Mn mineralisation of Miguel Burnier and elsewhere in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero. Our observations indicate that the southernmost São Francisco craton has seismically been active since the Late Eocene.


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We acknowledge CNPq [Grant number 424909/2016-2], FAPEMIG [Grant number PPM-00357-17], FINEP, CDTN/CNEN and CAPES for grants and a M.Sc. scholarship to the first author. We are grateful to Professor Bernd Lehmann for financing the costs of reconnaissance whole-rock chemical analyses. We are indebted to the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments that substantially improved the original manuscript. We are also grateful to Dr. Clifford Chuwah, for his editorial handling and comments.


Our project was funded by CNPq [Grant number 424909/2016–2], FAPEMIG [Grant number PPM-00357–17], FINEP, CDTN / CNEN and CAPES.

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DeFerreira, T.H., Cabral, A.R. & Rios, F.J. Earthquake-induced clastic dyke and fluid inflow at the Miguel Burnier manganese-ore deposit, Quadrilátero Ferrífero of Minas Gerais, Brazil. SN Appl. Sci. 3, 342 (2021).

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  • Seismite
  • Clastic dyke
  • Cenozoic tectonics
  • São Francisco craton
  • Quadrilátero ferrífero
  • Metal enrichment