Yangtze Craton, Cathaysia and the South China Block

  • Franco Pirajno


The Yangzte Craton and Cathaysia were amalgamated, along a northeast-southwest trending fold belt or tectonic zone (Jiangshan-Shaoxing suture; Jiangnan orogen), following north-directed subduction between the Mesoproterozoic and Early Palaeozoic. Together they form the South China Block, separated from the North China Craton by the Qinling-Dabie orogenic belt, a major Late Triassic collision zone that resulted from the closure of a Palaeo-Tethys oceanic arm. The Yangtze Craton contains Archaean and Palaeproterozoic rocks, overlain by sedimentary succession of the Yangtze platform. However, exposures of Archaean rocks are scarce. The Archaean is largely represented by the 3.1–2.5 Ga Dabie Group that is unconformably overlain by the Proterozoic Hongan Group in the Huaiyang region in Hubei Province. The Dabie Group is a 15 km-thick succession comprising hornblende-plagioclase gneiss, biotite-plagioclase gneiss, amphibolite, granulites, marbles and banded iron- formation (BIF). Unconformably overlying the Dabie Group is the Palaeoproterozoic Susong Group, which contains mainly marble units. Along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, is the Wudang Group with a total thickness estimated at about 15 km, consisting of quartzite, mica schist, slates and metavolcanic rocks with a possible age of about 2.0 Ga. In the Yangtze River gorges in Hubei Province, the Sandouping Group contains biotite-plagioclase gneiss, amphibolite, quartz schist, marble with a total thickness of about 3 km. The northern part of the Yangtze Craton is the Kongling microcontintal block, which participated in the final amalgamation of the Craton. The Cathaysia Block consists of Palaeo- and Mesoproterozoic rocks, represented by 1.8 Ga granites and volcanic rocks of the Badu Complex and the 1.43 Ga granites of the Baoban Complex in Hainan Island, with superimposed Mesozoic volcanic rocks and granitic intrusions (South China Fold Belt). The Precambrian basement of Cathaysia is exposed in the northeast (Zhejiang and Fujan provinces), where two metamorphic sequences occur between the Jiangshan-Shaoxing and Lishui-Haifeng fault zones. The basement of the Cathaysia Block remains largely unknown, although it is generally assumed that the Block is underlain by Palaeo- to Mesoproterozoic continental crust. In the western parts of Cathaysia, crustal material is of Meso-Neoproterozoic age, with some Archaean components, all extensively reworked at various stages during Caledonian (450 Ma), Indosinian (240 Ma) and early Yanshanian (160 Ma) thermal events. In the Neoproterozoic the Cathaysia Block underwent a rifting stage in the period of 857–837 Ma, corresponding with the breakup of the Rodinia supercontinent. The coastal region of Cathaysia is characterised by widespread intrusive and volcanic rocks of Yanshanian age (Mesozoic), forming a magmatic belt extending for more than 400 km from Hainan island to Zhejiang Province to the northeast.

The Yangtze Craton and Cathaysia host a multitude of ore systems, with several falling in the world class category. Mineral systems discussed in this chapter include sedimentary rock-hosted of the Lower Yangtze River region, which include the Dachang polymetallic mineralisation, mostly comprising Sn and other metals, such as Zn, In, Sb, Cu and Ag. Mississippi Valley Type (MVT) deposits are discussed next, with the example of the Huize district, containing a total of about 5 Mt of Pb + Zn reserves. Carlin-type and Carlin-style Au deposits are numerous and are mostly located along the northern margin of the Yangzte Craton; examples discussed are the Shuiyindong and Yata deposits. Porphyry systems in the Cathaysia Block include Dabaoshan, which is part of a larger polymetallic ore system, located along the major Wuchuan-Sihui northeast trending fault zone and comprising a porphyry Mo deposit, stratiform Cu-Pb-Zn ore and Mo-W skarn ore, all associated with felsic intrusions and subvolcanic intrusions. The Dexing porphyry Cu-Mo district, one of the largest in China, is located in the Jiangxi province, in the Dele Jurassic basin.

The Middle-Lower Yangzte River Valley metallogenic province contains a wide range of mineral systems from porphyry, porphyry-skarn, epithermal veins, to Kiruna-style Fe-P. The deposits are generally associated with volcano-sedimentary rift basins and have isotopic ages ranging from 160 to 120 Ma. The Yangzte River Valley mineral deposits are mostly related to phases of Yanshanian magmatism, dominated by I-type high K-calc-alkaline granitic rocks, Na-rich calc-alkaline dioritic intrusions and A-type granites. This magmatism in the region mainly developed in two stages, at 160–135 Ma with I-type intrusions and a later phase at about 120 Ma dominantly with A-type granites. These intruded into above-mentioned thick carbonate sucessions of various ages, resulting in the widespread formation of skarn systems. In this chapter, I describe the Tongshankou porphyry-skarn Cu-Mo, Tonglushan Cu-Fe-Au skarn, the Longqiao Fe skarn, Tongliujing Cu-Au-Mo veins deposit (Yueshan district), the Kiruna-style Zhongu ore field and the Dalongshan U deposit. The section on the Yangzte River Valley metallogenic belt ends with a review of the geodynamic evolution, which was responsible for the development of the mineral systems.

Brief reviews of the Jinshan orogenic Au deposits and the Sn-Cu Gejiu mineral districts in Yunnan Province (SW China) follow. The Geju mineral district is a fascinating region, where ca. 83 Ma granitic cupolas intruded the local lithologies resulting in a complex scenario of greisen-stype Sn deposits to proximal and distal skarns to massive sulphides (Cu-Sn) replacing mafic lavas that are intercalated with the sedimentary beds.

The Lower Cambrian black shales in the Yangzte platform sedimentary succession are enriched in Mo, Ni, PGE, Au, Ag, Zn, V and As. This is a metalliferous shales horizon, which includes phosphorite and stone coal, extends along a belt 1,600 km long, from Yunan Province in the south-southwest to Zhejiang Province in the east-northeast. Several genetic models that have been proposed to explain this metal enrichement in the black shales are discussed in this chapter.

The Cathaysia Block (including the South China Fold Belt) is characterised by numerous northeast-trending continental rift basin of Mesozoic age, referred to as the Cathaysian rift system. In South China there are economically significant U deposits including granite-related, volcanic-type; black shale-related, also referred to as carbonate-siliceous-pelite (C-Si-pelite). The granite-related Guidong, Xiaozhuang and Zhuhuang U ore fields are described, followed by the volcanic-related U deposits of the Gang-Hang belt in southeast China.

The chapter concludes with brief overviews of two unusual mineral systems: a REE-Nb-Ga in coal seams and the polygenetic Shilu Fe deposit in Hainan Island. The former could open up an entirely new field, in terms of new conceptual models and for future prospects in REE mineral resources, a commodity which is in much demand in the twenty first century.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geological Survey of Western Australia Centre for Exploration TargetingThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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