Billion-year stability of cratonic edges controls location of global sediment-hosted metals

Sustainable development and transition to a clean-energy economy is placing ever-increasing demand on global supplies of base metals (copper, lead, zinc and nickel). Alarmingly, this demand is outstripping the present rate of discovery of new deposits, with significant shortfalls forecast in the coming decades. Thus, to maintain growth in global living standards, dramatic improvements in exploration success rate are an essential goal of the geoscience community. Significant quantities of base metals have been deposited by low-temperature hydrothermal circulation within sedimentary basins over the last 2 billion years. Despite over a century of research, relationships between these deposits and geological structures remain enigmatic. Here, for the first time, we show that 85% of sediment-hosted base metals, including all giant deposits (> 10 megatonnes of metal), occur within 200 km of the edges of thick lithosphere, mapped using surface wave tomography and a parameterisation for anelasticity at seismic frequencies. This remarkable observation implies long-term lithospheric edge stability and a genetic link between deep Earth processes and near-surface hydrothermal mineral systems. This result provides an unprecedented global framework for identifying fertile regions for targeted mineral exploration, reducing the search-space for new deposits by two-thirds on this lithospheric thickness criterion alone.