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The Mines of Sulitjelma, Norway

Last Updated: 31st Dec 2018

By Nathalie Brandes

Sulitjelma, Norway is located in Nordland County north of the Arctic Circle and not far from the Swedish border. The town sits at the northeast shore of the lake Langvatn with mines in the surrounding area on both the north and south sides of the lake. For over 100 years, Sulitjelma was one of Norway’s most important mining districts, producing sulphur, copper, zinc, and minor amounts of silver and gold (Segalstad et al., 2006; Iversen, 2011).

The rocks of the Sulitjelma region are part of the Köli Nappe Complex in the Upper Allochthon of the Central Scandinavian Caledonides (Stephens et al., 1985; Cook et al., 1993; Boyle et al., 1994). These were folded and metamorphosed during the closure of the Iapetus Ocean and the collision between Baltica and Laurentia during the Caledonian Orogeny (Boyle et al., 1994). The oldest rock unit at Sulitjelma is the Skaiti Supergroup, which includes mostly metasedimentary schists and gneisses. Intrusive parts of the Sulitjelma Ophiolite cut across these rocks (Boyle et al., 1985; Kollung, 1989, 1990; Cook et al., 1993; Boyle et al., 1994). Pedersen et al. (1991) dated gabbro within the ophiolite to 437±2 Ma. Overlying the ophiolite complex are the metasedimentary schists of the Furulund and Sjønstå Groups, which are Ordovician to Silurian in age (Vogt, 1927; Wilson, 1971; Boyle, 1989; Cook et al., 1993; Boyle et al., 1994). Ore bodies are concentrated at the contact between the ophiolite and Furulund Group (Cook et al., 1993). Deformation during the Caledonian Orogeny folded the rock sequence such that the stratigraphy is now inverted with the older rock units overlying the younger ones (Boyle, 1987; Ramberg et al., 2008). Peak metamorphism of greenschist to amphibolite facies has been dated to about 434 Ma (Burton and O’Nions, 1992; Boyle, 1986; Cook et al., 1993). Pressure and temperature conditions during this event have been estimated to range from 480°C and 5 kbar to 628°C and 9-10 kbar (Burton et al., 1989; Boyle and Westhead, 1992).

The ore deposits at Sulitjelma are stratabound volcanogenic massive sulphides (VMS) that formed at the top of the ophiolite from a hydrothermal system on the seafloor (Cook, 1996; Frost et al., 2002). At least 20 deposits are recognised in the district (Cook et al., 1990). They are tabular ore bodies up to 1200 m long and 300 m wide with variable thicknesses from less than a metre to several metres. The host rock beneath the ore bodies was hydrothermally altered, but because of the overturned stratigraphy this alteration is now above the ore zone (Cook et al., 1993; Cook et al., 2006). During metamorphism some elements were mobilised and redistributed along fractures and faults (Cook, 1996). Frost et al. (2002) suggest partial melting of the VMS deposits occurred during peak metamorphic conditions and accounts for the later mineralisation. Major minerals within the ore bodies include pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite, and pyrrhotite. Galena, arsenopyrite, cubanite, molybdenite, stannite, and tetrahedrite occur in lesser amounts. Traces of antimonides, tellurides, and native metals are present (Cook et al., 1993; Cook, 1996). Faults and veins that cut the ore bodies contain pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, and sulphosalts. Also found in these veins are anhydrite, baryte, and Celestine, often intergrown with actinoliter, biotite, chlorite, and quartz (Cook et al., 1993).

The area around Sulitjelma was originally reindeer grazing land of the Sami people. The first permanent settlement appeared in 1848 and in the subsequent years a few farms were established. Ore was discovered in 1858 by Mons Peter, but mining did not begin until 1887 (Ellingsen et al., 1996; Segalstad et al., 2006; Iversen, 2011). The mining industry in the area quickly grew. An electric power station was built in 1893, soon followed by a smelter, which became the world’s first electric copper smelting works (Witherell and Skougor, 1922; Ellingsen et al., 1996). By 1900 the mines had become the second largest industrial firm in Norway. Peak production occurred in 1913, when over 3000 people lived in Sulitjelma with more than 1750 of them working in the mines (Ramberg et al., 2008). Recession in the 1970s and declining profitability caused mining to be scaled back over subsequent years. At 12:30 pm on 27 June 1991, the last blast was fired at the mine (Ellingsen et al., 1996).

In over 100 years of mining about 880 km of underground rail lines were built to transport ore from the mines. A total of about 26 million tonnes of ore were processed to produce ~470,000 tonnes of copper, ~215,000 tonnes of zinc, and ~5,320,000 tonnes of sulphur (Iversen, 2011). The mining history of Sulitjelma is very obvious still today in the numerous adits, buildings, and the ruins of the smelter. A mining museum includes displays of local and international minerals, tools used in the mining operations, and information about local history.


Boyle, A.P., 1986, Metamorphism of basic and pelitic rocks at Sulitjelma, Norway: Lithos, v. 19, p. 113-128.

Boyle, A.P., 1987, A model for the stratigraphic and metamorphic inversions at Sulitjelma, central Scandes: Geological Magazine, v. 124, p. 451-466.

Boyle, A.P., 1989, The geochemistry of the Sulitjelma ophiolite and associated basic volcanics: tectonic implications in Gayer, R.A., ed., The Caledonide Geology of Scandinavia: London, Graham and Trottman, p. 153-163.

Boyle, A.P. and Westhead, K., 1992, Metamorphic peak geothermobarometry in the Furulund Group, Sulitjelma, Scandinavian Caledonides: implications for uplift: Journal of Metamorphic Geology, v. 10, p. 615-626.

Boyle, A.P., Mason, R., and Hansen, Y.S., 1985, A new tectonic perspective of the Sulitjelma region in Gee, D.G. and Sturt, B.A., eds., The Caledonide Orogen, Scandinavia and related areas: London, John Wiley and Sons, p. 529-542.

Boyle, A.P., Burton, K.W., and Westhead, R.K., 1994, Diachronous burial and exhumation of a single tectonic unit during collision orogenesis (Sulitjelma, central Scandinavian Caledonides): Geology, v. 22, p. 1043-1046.

Burton, K.W., and O’Nions, R.K., 1992, The timing of mineral growth across a regional metamorphic sequence: Nature, v. 357, p. 235-238.

Burton, K.W., Boyle, A.P., Kirk, W.L., and Mason, R., 1989, Pressure, temperature and Structural evolution of the Sulitjelma fold-nappe, central Scandinavian Caledonides in Daly, J.S., Cliff, R.A., and Yardley, B.W.D., eds., Evolution of Metamorphic Belts: Geological Society of London Special Publication 43, p. 391-411.

Cook, N.J., 1996, Mineralogy of the sulphide deposits at Sulitjelma, northern Norway: Ore Geology Review, v. 11, p. 303-338.

Cook, N.J., Halls, C., and Kaspersen, P.O., 1990, The geology of the Sulitjelma ore field, northern Norway—some new interpretations: Economic Geology, v. 85, p. 1720-1737.

Cook, N.J., Halls, C., and Boyle, A.P., 1993, Deformation and metamorphism of massive sulphides at Sulitjelma, Norway: Mineralogical Magazine, v. 57, p. 67-81.

Ellingsen, H., Hugaas, K.S., Einset, F., and Evjen, H, 1996, Into the Kingdom of the Miner: Bodø, Nordland fylkeskommune, 28p.
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Iversen, E.R., 2011, Oppfølging av forurensningssituasjonen i Sulitjelma gruvefelt, Fauske commune Undersøkelser i 2010-2011: Norsk Institutt for Vannforskning: Rapport OR 6236, 23p.

Kollung, S., 1989, Bedrock geological map of the Sulitjelma region, northern Norway, scale 1:100 000,with description: Norges Geologiske Undersøkelse Skrifter, v. 93, p. 1-47.

Kollung, S., 1990, Berggrunnskart over Sulitelmafeltet, Målestokk 1:100 000: Norges Geologiske Undersøkelse, Bilag til NGU Skrifter, v. 93.

Pedersen, R.B., and Furnes, H., and Dunning, G., 1991, A U/Pb age for the Sulitjelma Gabbro, Northern Norway: further evidence for the development of a Caledonide marginal basin in Ashgill-Llandovery time: Geological Magazine, v. 128, p. 141-153.
Ramberg, I.B., Bryhni, I., Nøttvedt, A., and Rangnes, K., eds., 2008, The Making of a Land—Geology of Norway: Trondheim, Norsk Geologisk Forening, 624p.

Segalstad, T.V., Walder, I.F., and Nilssen, S., 2006, Mining mitigation in Norway and future improvement possibilitites in Barnhisel, R.I., ed., 7th International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage:Lexington, Kentucky, American Society of Mining and Reclamation, p. 1952-1960.

Stephens, M.B., Gustavson, M., Ramberg, I.B., and Zachrisson, E., 1985, The Caledonides of central-north Scandinavia—a tectonostratigraphic overview in Gee, D.G. and Sturt, B.A., eds., The Caledonide Orogen, Scandinavia and related areas: London, John Wiley and Sons, p. 135-162.

Vogt, T., 1927, Sulitelma geologi og petrogrophi: Norges Geologiske Undersøkelse, v. 121, 560p.
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Witherhell, C.S., and Skougor, H.E., 1922, The Westly electric furnace for copper smelting: Engineering and Mining Journal, v. 113, p. 356-361.

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