Structural analysis of syn-depositional hydrothermal veins of the 3.48 Ga Dresser Formation, Pilbara Craton, Australia

Sahand Tadbiri, Martin J. Van Kranendonk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The lower chert unit of the 3.48 Ga Dresser Formation (Pilbara Craton, Western Australia) hosts Earth's oldest convincing evidence of life in the form of stromatolites in a depositional setting that has been interpreted as either a shallow marine lagoon, an active volcanic caldera, or a basin deposited during regional extension. Understanding the environment where early life thrived is important not only for early life studies on Earth, but in the search for life on Mars, and for understanding the setting for the origin of life. Structural analysis of the extensive network of syn-depositional hydrothermal chert-barite veins that immediately underlies the Dresser was undertaken in order to test if deposition occurred within an evolving caldera system, or during regional extension. Over 190 hydrothermal veins were mapped for their geometry and relative age relationships. Bedding orientations were recorded within nine fault-bounded structural sub-blocks and used for back-rotating the measured veins to their original orientation. The results show that: 1) There are four main vein systems, including three that were emplaced during deposition of the Dresser Formation lower chert unit, and a fourth that was emplaced within syn- to post-depositional listric growth faults; 2) The majority of veins were sub-vertical prior to regional tilting; 3) The first three vein systems show mutually cross-cutting relationships; 4) Vein densities and the number of vein systems vary between sub-blocks; 5) Conjugate vein networks (NE-SW and NW-SE) dominate two middle and northern sub-blocks.These results show that the first three vein systems were emplaced through fracturing under a stress regime with a vertical σ1. Vertical conjugate fractures are consistent with sandbox models of overburden fracturing during emplacement and discharge of a magma chamber in a volcanic caldera. Areas of single vein orientations reflect marginal areas of the caldera system, dominated by radial or by ring faults. The veins in late listric growth faults represent the final period of caldera collapse, which controlled the depositional thicknesses of overlying strata, possibly during subsequent regional extension. These results document an unique setting for earliest life on Earth, within shallow water and terrestrial deposits of an active, low-eruptive caldera setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105844
JournalPrecambrian Research
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Caldera
  • Dresser Formation
  • Early Archean
  • Hydrothermal veins
  • Pilbara Craton
  • Structural analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Structural analysis of syn-depositional hydrothermal veins of the 3.48 Ga Dresser Formation, Pilbara Craton, Australia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this