Tectonic Setting and Origin of Metalliferous Sediments in the Mesozoic Tethys Ocean

  • A. H. F. Robertson
  • J. F. Boyle
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 12)


Plate tectonic reconstruction of the Mesozoic Tethyan realm shows that metalliferous-oxide and sulphide-sediments are associated with Late Triassic continental rift volcanism, Triassic-Jurassic seamounts and subsiding carbonate platforms, and Jurassic to Lower Cretaceous passive margins adjacent to ocean basins. Cupriferous sulphide- and oxide-sediment precipitation accompanied seafloor spreading in Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous and Upper Cretaceous time. The field relations, mineralogy and chemistry (particularly of Rare Earth Elements) is summarised for each sediment type.

The Middle Triassic initial stages of continental rifting (Periadriatic Line) were marked by deposition of shallow marine carbonates and related Pb-Zn-rich brine exhalations. Hydrothermal leaching was driven by elevated geothermal gradients in areas of thinned continental crust. Widening rifts during Upper Triassic time were accompanied by extensive mostly alkalic mafic volcanism and deep water Mn- and Fe-Mn oxide-sediments (Oman, Antalya). Ferruginous pisoliths accumulated slowly on seamounts and disintegrating carbonate platforms adjacent to rifts (Sicily). After volcanism ended, hydrogenous accumulation produced Mn- and trace metal-rich crusts above the rift lavas (Mamonia, Antalya), and also metal-rich horizons on the adjacent deep water clastic rift margins (Antalya). During continental break-up and the passive margin phase, Fe-Mn crusts and nodules accumulated slowly on subsiding seamounts (Sicily). The pink, often nodular, ammonitico rosso or knollenkalke is the product of condensed pelagic carbonate deposition. The passive margins comprise predominantly distal terrigenous and radiolarian sediments, deposited below the calcite compensation depth. Manganiferous intercalations in the Upper Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous signal renewed volcanism along the margins (Antalya, Oman, Mamonia, Baër-Bassit).

Upper Jurassic ocean floor formed at a rifted spreading axis possibly in an elongate strike-slip controlled basin (Ligurian Apennines), with stratiform cupriferous sulphides at several levels, and trace element-poor manganese ores along the lava-pelagic sediment interface. Later radiolarian deposition was pelagic with a distal terrigenous component (Elba). During the Upper Cretaceous, seafloor spreading, in small ocean basins, produced major cupriferous sulphides, and both Fe-rich (ochres) and Fe-Mn-rich (umbers) oxide-sediments (Troodos Massif, Semail Nappe, Baër-Bassit).

Comparisons of modern oceanic sediments highlight the key controls of Tethyan metallogenesis. High-temperature discharge from less-rifted fast-spreading axes produced major stratiform cupriferous sulphide orebodies and Fe-Mn oxide-sediments (umbers). Rifting and slower spreading allowed greater seawater penetration and favoured formation of small stratiform cupriferous sulphides and Fe-poor, Mn-oxide sediments (Ligurian Apennines). The metals of the Tethyan rifts and passive margin precipitated from more dilute lower-temperature thermal springs, with varying degrees of trace element scavenging from seawater. The end-product was the condensed Fe-Mn nodules and crusts which slowly accumulated on sediment-starved seamounts and subsiding platforms.


Massive Sulphide Passive Margin Pillow Lava Siliceous Mudstone Manganese Nodule 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. H. F. Robertson
    • 1
  • J. F. Boyle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland

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