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Lithospheric hydrous pyroxenites control localisation and Ni endowment of magmatic sulfide deposits

journal contribution
posted on 2024-01-08, 15:17 authored by Ezad Isra, Daryl Blanks, Stephen Foley, David Holwell, Jason Bennett, Marco Fiorentini

Magmatic Ni–sulfide ore deposits are generally associated with basaltic to komatiitic igneous rocks that originate by partial melting of the mantle, which is usually modelled as a uniform four-phase peridotite. Existing models accept that the key metal contributors to mantle melts are olivine (Ni) and sulfide (Cu, platinum group elements (PGEs) and minor Ni). However, melting in the mantle commonly begins in volumetrically minor mantle assemblages such as hydrous pyroxenites that occur as veins in the peridotite mantle, which are rich in the hydrous minerals phlogopite, amphibole and apatite. The contribution of hydrous pyroxenites to the metal endowment of mantle melts may have been underestimated or overlooked in the past, partly because evidence of their input is partially erased as melting intensifies to involve peridotite.

Here, we compile new results from experiments and natural rocks which demonstrate that the hydrous minerals such as phlogopite, amphiboles and apatite all have high partition coefficients for Ni (3–20) and may be important repositories for Ni in mantle sources of igneous rocks. This implies that hydrous minerals hosted in metasomatic mantle lithologies such as hydrous pyroxenites may be important contributors to some magmatic Ni–sulfide ore systems. Hydrous pyroxenites contain hydrous minerals in large modal abundances up to 30–40 vol% in addition to clinopyroxene and a few vol% of oxide phases, such as rutile and ilmenite. These mantle lithologies are commonly associated with cratonic and continental regions, where low-temperature, low-degree volatile-rich melts commonly modify lithospheric peridotite mantle, depositing variable hydrous pyroxenites.

The lower melting temperatures of hydrous minerals in hydrous pyroxenite lithologies also means that the generation of magmatic ore deposits may not require a major thermal perturbation such as a plume, as the melting temperatures of hydrous pyroxenites lie around 300–350 °C lower than dry peridotites. Partial melts of hydrous pyroxenite are more voluminous at low temperatures than melts of peridotite would be. Furthermore, it is argued in the following that they would contain similar or even higher concentrations of Ni. Thus, predictive exploration models should consider domains of the lithospheric mantle where hydrous pyroxenites may be localised and concentrated, as they may have been episodically melted throughout the long-lived geological evolution of cratonic blocks, yielding Ni-rich melts that may be hosted in conduits of varying size and geometry at various crustal levels.


Deep earth cycles of carbon, water and nitrogen

Australian Research Council

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ARC Laureate Fellowship (FL180100134) awarded to S.F.F and applied in collaboration with the Craton Margin Exploration Targeting-4D (CMET-4D) project, funded by BHP and awarded to Macquarie University, the University of Western Australia and the University of Leicester.


Author affiliation

Centre for Sustainable Resource Extraction, University of Leicester


  • AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Published in

Mineralium Deposita


Springer Verlag



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