Kenneth Hickey

Associate Professor

Director of the EOSC 328 Geological Field School

ESB 5199
(778) 384-7074

My main research interest is to understand the processes involved in the genesis of mineral deposits from a multidisciplinary perspective. The combined application of aspects of geomorphology, thermochronology, geochronology, geochemistry, structural geology, regional geology, tectonics and geophysics yield a more complete picture on the evolution of ore systems, including the varied factors responsible for the spatio-temporal distribution of ore, than the application of any one discipline by itself. Field relationships are a core requirement for understanding the geological framework of any mineral deposit and much of my research is based around geological mapping. Specific research projects are as follows:

Current projects




Past projects

Post-mineralization weathering, denudation and subsequent burial of Carlin-type Au-mineralization at the Cortez Hills deposit: Implications for finding Au-deposits in bedrock under cover. 

The main goal of this project was to establish the post-mineralization history of Carlin-type Au-deposits with the aim of being better able to discover hypogene/oxidized ore in bedrock beneath post-mineralization cover. Although the research is primarily based around the Cortez Hills deposit and to a lesser degree the Pipeline deposit, the results have important implications for other regions of Carlin-type mineralization in Nevada. This project was sponsored by Barrick Gold Corporation.

Student: Trent Newkirk, Ph.D.; Oliver Friesen, B.Sc. Hons student; Wes Perrin, B.Sc. Hons student


Integrating paleogeography-tectonics, geochemistry and thermochronology to develop vectors towards ore: Redstone Sedimentary Copper Belt, NWT (2009-current).

This project seeks to improve understanding of the controls on sedimentary Cu mineralization and develop better far-field tracers of the mineralization to aid the detection of deposits in the subsurface. The project will focus on the Redstone copper belt in the eastern Mackenzie Mountains of the NWT, Canada. The research proceeds on regional and prospect scales and seeks to define the basin architecture and tectonic / sedimentological framework for sediment-hosted Cu deposits. It also examines mineralogical, geochemical, and thermal expressions of the hydrothermal flow to help develop vectors toward ore.  When complete, the project will provide a better understanding of sediment-hosted Cu systems, and provide data to help regional exploration in sedimentary copper belts. This project is sponsored by Copper North Mining Corporation (formerly Western Copper Corporation) and supported by the Northwest Territories Geoscience Office.  

Research team: Jack Milton, Ph.D. student


Thermal and geochemical footprints of low-temperature sedimentary rock-hosted hydrothermal Au-systems:  Identifying far-field vectors toward ore (2007-2010)

One of the main challenges faced by companies exploring for Carlin-type deposits is to be able to search under the sequences of Paleozoic to Quaternary rocks overlying the Lower Paleozoic, carbonate dominated, rock units that form the main host for mineralization. The current project builds upon the existing MDRU research with the aim of developing an integrated model for the exploration of Carlin-type deposits that maximizes the potential for success under cover. The project combines a well-constrained geological understanding of the paleogeographical, tectonic and magmatic environment of gold deposition with a range of thermochronometers ,and lithogeochemical, isotopic and mineralogical tracers to delineate the location and scale of Eocene hydrothermal fluid circulation and where it may manifest under cover. These tracers will also provide a means to define direction and scale of fluid flow and help delineate feeder structures within areas of Eocene hydrothermal activity. The study encompasses major Carlin-type deposits in the Great Basin west of the Ruby Mountains. The results of the project have implications beyond the Great Basin, and have the potential to assist in the evaluation and exploration of other terranes favorable for Carlin-type gold deposits, or other sedimentary rock-hosted deposits.  This project was sponsored by Barrick Gold Corporation, Newmont Mining Corporation, and Teck Ltd, with matching funds provided by NSERC-CRD (Hickey & Dipple).

Research team

  • Dr Kenneth Hickey
  • Dr Greg Dipple
  • Dr Shaun Barker, Post-doc (2007-2012)
  • Dr Graham Andrews, Post-doc (2008-2009)
  • Jeremy Vaughan, Ph.D. student (2013)
  • Ayesha Ahmed, M.Sc. student (2010)
  • Moira Cruickshanks, M.Sc. student (2012)
  • Abe Torchinsky, B.Sc. Hons student (2010)

Research products - Papers

  • Hickey, K.A., Barker, S.L.L., Dipple, G.M., Arehart, G.B. & Donelick, R.A., in press. The brevity of hydrothermal fluid flow revealed by thermal haloes around giant gold deposits: implications for Carlin-type gold systems. Economic Geology.
  • Hickey, K.A., Ahmed, A.D., Barker, S.L.L. & Leonardson, R., in press. Fault-controlled lateral fluid flow underneath and into a Carlin-type gold deposit: Isotopic and geochemical footprints. Economic Geology.
  • Barker, S.L.L., Dipple, G.M., Hickey, K.A., Lepore, W. A. & Vaughan, J.R., 2013. Applying stable isotopes to mineral exploration: teaching an old dog new tricks. Economic Geology, 108, 1-9.
  • Ahmed, A.D., Hickey, K.A., Barker, S.L.L., 2011. The Elder Creek deposit: the upper plate expression of an auriferous Carlin-type hydrothermal system? In Steininger, R., and Pennell, W. (eds), Geological Society of Nevada 2010 Symposium: Great Basin Evolution and Metallogeny: Lancaster, DEStech Publications Inc, p. 909-926.
  • Barker, S.L.L., Hickey, K.A., Cline, J.S., Dipple, G.M., Kilburn, M.R., Vaughan, J. and Longo, A.A., 2009. Uncloaking invisible gold: use of nanoSIMS to measure gold, trace elements and sulfur isotopes in pyrite from Carlin-type gold deposits. Economic Geology, 104, 897-904

Research products - Reports

  • Year 3 Report, Sept 2010: Hickey et al., 2010, 100Mb version, 30 Mb version. Complete oral presentations
  • Year 2 Report, April 2009: Hickey et al., 2009. Elder Creek Poster and Field Guide.
  • Year 1 Report, April 2008: Hickey et al., 2008

Research products - Theses

  • Ayesha Ahmed MSc 2010 
  • Moira Cruickshanks MSc 2012
  • Jeremy Vaughan PhD 2013

The physio-chemical signature of the auriferous hydrothermal system at the Long Canyon deposit, NE Nevada: Implications for conceptual and empirical based exploration (2009-2011)

When a hydrothermal fluid infiltrates a carbonate rock, oxygen and carbon isotopic exchange processes that occur between carbonate minerals and the fluid can produce changes in the original isotopic ratios of the rock. Analysis of these €œexchanged€ isotope ratios in the host rock, relative to their original isotopic composition, can help to define the extents of fluid-mineral interaction, as well as provide information on the mode of fluid flow, fluid flux and its chemical evolution through the fluid flow path. Previous studies have shown that this isotopic exchange can be detected beyond the extents of ore-stage trace element metasomatism in Carlin-type deposits and can potentially be used as a far-field vector to orebodies. 

The recently discovered Long Canyon deposit in northeast Nevada is a sedimentary rock-hosted gold deposit with a similar mineralogical and geochemical ore signature to the classic Carlin Au-systems. The deposit lies over 150km east of the easternmost of the major Carlin Au-deposits, well off any of the currently recognized trends that host the majority of the Carlin-type gold. Mineralization at Long Canyon is hosted in calcareous sedimentary units (silty limestone and karst breccias) like the majority of Carlin deposits, but these units are of Cambrian-Ordovician age, slightly older, and with a more inboard (platform) paleo-environmental setting, than the majority of the Carlin systems further to the west.

The goal of this project was to use a detailed carbon and oxygen isotope study, combined with detailed exploration geochemistry and petrographic analysis, to better understand the physicochemical character of the hydrothermal system responsible for ore genesis at Long Canyon. In this study we employed isotopic analysis of contiguous drill hole assay pulps, hand specimen sized core samples, and micro-drilled, mm-scale, samples of individual lithologies. In total we collected in excess of 2,800 unique carbonate oxygen and carbon isotope sample ratios from across the deposit, making it the largest stable isotope study of a carbonate-hosted hydrothermal ore deposit to-date. The combined geological, isotopic and geochemical data enabked us to: (1) map fluid pathways over drill cross-sections and surface sampling traverses at the Long Canyon deposit; (2) assess the structural and lithologic controls on fluid flow; (3) determine the extent of fluid-rock interaction and isotopic exchange beyond the limits of trace element halos genetically associated with gold mineralization (antimony, thallium, mercury and arsenic); and (4) provide guidelines for the use of stable isotope studies in mineral exploration programs at Long Canyon and Carlin-type deposits in general. This project was funded by Fronteer Development Group (& subsequently by Newmont Mining Corp.), NSERC-IPC and NSERC-Discovery (Hickey). 

Research team

  • Dr Kenneth Hickey
  • Will Lepore, M.Sc. student (2013)

Research products - Papers

  • Lepore, W.A., Hickey, K.A. & Barker, S.L.L. High-density 18O/16O isotopic mapping of hydrothermal fluid flow pathways within the Long Canyon Carlin-type gold deposit, Nevada, USA. In prep.
  • Lepore, W.A., Hickey, K.A. & Barker, S.L.L. Vectors towards ore within a carbonate rock-hosted gold deposit. In prep.

Research products - Theses

  • Will Lepore MSc 2013 


High-Grade Hydrothermal Copper in Foliated Granites: Structural control on the spatio-temporal distribution of ore at the Minto Cu-Au deposit (2008-2010)

The Minto Cu-Au deposit (~8.6 Mt averaging 1.97% Cu and 0.72 g/t Au) is hosted within granodiorite of the Early Jurassic Granite Mountain batholith in central Yukon. Mineralization at Minto occurs as disseminated to massive bornite-chalcopyrite in foliated units of the Granite Mountain batholith. The foliated zones dip shallowly to the north and appear to have sharp boundaries with non-mineralized, non-foliated granodiorite. The mineralization is commonly associated with biotite and magnetite. Since 2005, extensive drilling programs and exposure of the main orebody in the open-pit have significantly improved the geological information available and provide an unique opportunity to resolve the geometry and nature of structural controls involved in formation of the Minto deposit. The overall goal of the research is to understand the effect of pre-, syn- and post-mineralization structural controls on the ore and grade distributions in the Minto deposits. Specific objectives are; (i) To characterize the style and spatio-temporal distribution of alteration and mineralization at the Minto deposit. (ii) To develop a geometric and kinematic model for the structural development of the deposit and determine the paragenesis of alteration and mineralization relative to it. (iii) To understand the influence of deformation on spatio-temporal distribution of mineralization and associated mineral alteration. (iv) To develop an improved genetic model for the Minto deposit. The results of the study will assist in developing an improved genetic model for Minto style deposits that will facilitate exploration for other Cu-Au deposits in the district. This project was sponsored by Capstone Mining Corporation and the Yukon Geological Survey.  

Research team

  • Dr Kenneth Hickey
  • Shawn Hood, M.Sc. student (2012)

Research products - Theses

Unravelling P-T-t-d history of Proterozoic supracrustal rocks: Relative roles of vertical and horizontal tectonics in the evolution of the Proterozoic Wopmay orogen and underlying Archean lithosphere (2009-2013)

This project on the Wopmay orogen in the NWT, Canada, has two main goals. Firstly, to contribute to our modern understanding of the evolution of crustal rocks during orogenesis; particularly, the deformation processes that enable the crust to deform, the paths rocks take through this deforming crust, the rates at which they do it and final geometries that evolve as a product of it. Secondly, the field area contains Proterozoic supracrustal rocks that were deposited directly on Archean basement. Understanding how orogenesis was manifest in the Proterozoic sequence will help constrain the influence of Archean crust on lithospheric geodynamics. The project comprises a large field component of structural and metamorphic mapping. It will also incorporate, microstructural analysis of matrix and porphyroblasts, geothermometry and geobarometry, (U-Pb) geochronology, and in-situ EMPA dating. This project was supported by the Northwest Territories Geoscience Office and by NSERC-Discovery (Hickey). 

 Research team

  • Dr Kenneth Hickey
  • Leanne Smar, M.Sc. student (2013)


The Carlin Thermal Anomaly Project: “ Defining spatio-temporal patterns in hydrothermal flow using apatite fission-track thermochronology; implications for the genesis and exploration of Carlin-type Au-deposits in north-central Nevada (2003-2006)

A previous project ("Eocene reconstruction project" - see below) identified regions of the central and northern Carlin trend where apatite fission-track (AFT) ages were partially to completely annealed during the Eocene and Miocene. Samples from this area have AFT ages that are Eocene or younger and contrast with the mainly Cretaceous age of samples to the north and south of the Carlin trend. Thermal modeling of the fission-track data suggests that the young, Cenozoic, annealed ages are largely a product of rapid cooling from a series of thermal pulses (>~110°C) between ~40Ma and 15Ma. Eocene-Micoene AFT ages also occur sporadically within areas of predominantly Cretaceous ages to the north of the Carlin trend suggesting that thermal activity extended heterogeneously in time and space beyond the main zone of apatite annealing. 

The spatial relationship of the thermal anomaly defined by AFT ages to the Au-deposits in the Carlin trend is not straightforward. Eocene-Miocene apatite ages are pervasively developed in the central part of the trend (Gold Quarry, Welches Canyon Carlin mine area), but are more heterogeneously distributed in northern Carlin trend (Carlin mine to the Goldstrike deposit) where the Jurassic Goldstrike and Little Boulder stocks are only locally affected by Eocene-Miocene resetting. The zone of pervasive annealing also extends significantly south of the line of Au-deposits particularly in the Richmond Mountain and Welches Canyon areas. Nevertheless, the spatial and temporal association between the area of annealed fission-tracks and Au-deposits in the Carlin trend is suggestive of some form of causal relationship; both possibly being products of the same hydrothermal circulatory system . If this is the case, then we might expect thermal anomalies to be associated with the other clusters of Carlin-type deposits in NE Nevada. Such a relationship raises the question of whether there is a correlation between the size of the Eocene thermal halo and the extent of gold endowment in the area within and around the halo? If so, identifying the size of an Eocene thermal anomaly could lead to qualitative estimates of its potential gold endowment. 

To better understand the genetic relationship of magmatism, thermal anomalies, hydrothermal circulation and Carlin-type Au-mineralization in Nevada this research project addressed the following questions:

  1. Are thermal anomalies associated with other clusters of Carlin-type Au deposits in NE Nevada?
  2. Are thermal anomalies uniquely associated with mineralization?
  3. Are thermal anomalies always spatially associated with intrusions?
  4. Is there a three-dimensional spatial relationship between the thermal anomalies, intrusions and the Au-deposits?
  5. Are Carlin-type gold deposits genetically related to magmatically driven hydrothermal systems?
  6. Are thermal anomalies vectors to mineralizing hydrothermal systems?
  7. Is there a correlation between the size of a thermal anomaly and the gold endowment in Carlin-type deposits?

This project was sponsored by Barrick Gold Corporation, Newmont Mining Corporation, PlacerDome, and Geoinformatics, with matching funds provided by NSERC-CRD (Tosdal). 

Research team

  • Dr Kenneth Hickey (Research Associate)
  • Dr Richard Tosdal

Research products - Maps

  • Maps of AFT dates across north central Nevada; Date contour maps (north, south); AFT data maps

Past graduate students

  • Jack Milton, Ph D. (with Sarah Gleeson, U of A), (2015)
  • Jeremy Vaughan, Ph.D. (2013)
  • Leanne Smar, M.Sc. (2013)
  • Will Lepore, M.Sc. (2013)
  • Moira Cruickshanks, M.Sc. (2012)
  • Shawn Hood, M.Sc. (2012)
  • Ayesha Ahmed, M.Sc. (2010)
  • Lucy Hollis, M.Sc. (with Lori Kennedy), (2009)
  • Scott Blevings, M.Sc. (with Lori Kennedy), (2008)

Past undergraduate Hons students

  • Oliver Friesen, (2013)
  • Wes Perrin, (2012)
  • Heather Friday, (2012)
  • Abe Torchinsky, (2010)
  • Kim Bell, (2008)
  • Colleen Atherton, (2008)
  • Alicia Carpenter, (2007)
  • Heather Reid, (2005)

EOSC-328  Field Geology

Geological mapping is the cornerstone of geology. The ability to map effectively requires a rigorous approach to data collection and management, and for dealing with scientific uncertainty. Rocks are rarely completely exposed, being variably eroded away or covered by younger sediments and/or soil. As such, geological mapping represents an underdetermined problem and a field geologist role is to develop an internally consistent and plausible hypothesis of the 3D geology based on rocks that remain exposed at the Earth’s surface - there are no right answers, just better constrained hypotheses. Geologic maps provide our best, and most fundamental, insight into the geological evolution of any volume of the crust intersecting the surface of the earth. 

I am the Director of the Geological Field School (EOSC328) that is held in the first 3 weeks of May. Taken at the end of Year 3, EOSC 328 is the capstone course in undergraduate geology at UBC. This course is based out of the EOAS departmental Okanagan Field Station located near the town of Oliver approximately 260 km east of Vancouver, in the southern Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. EOSC 328 provides a unique opportunity for students to be immersed in geology all day, everyday, for 3 weeks. It provides an environment for them to utilize the geology skills they have been developing over the past 3 to 4 years in a real field setting


EOSC-331   Introduction to Mineral Deposits (co-taught with Prof James Scoates)

Sustaining human society is a complex interdisciplinary challenge. New sources of metals are required to meet society’s current and future needs and yet exploration for new mineral resources is increasingly difficult as fewer and fewer mineral deposits remain to be found exposed at the Earth's surface. Future mineral exploration will require a greater scientific understanding of the spatio-temporal distribution of mineral deposits and how they may best be found at depth in the subsurface.The overall goal of EOSC 331 is to provide students with a basic scientific framework for understanding the origin and distribution of mineral deposits on planet Earth.

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  1. Use basic hand-specimen description of rocks to identify the mineralogical, chemical, structural and paragenetic character of mineral deposits and their associated host rocks.
  2. Describe the essential geological setting (mineralogical, geochemical, structural, tectonic, temporal) of the main mineral deposits types that provide the majority of the metals required by human society (e.g., Ti, V, Cr, Ni, PGE, Cu, Mo, Au, Ag, Pb, Zn, U, Fe).
  3. Discuss the key geological processes responsible for mineral deposit genesis.
  4. Describe how these deposits are distributed throughout geologic time (Archean to Cenozoic) and in space (e.g., mid-ocean ridge, continental arc, back-arc basin).
  5. Develop a conceptual Source-Transport-Trap (STT) model for understanding the genesis of mineral deposits on Earth and their relationship to plate tectonics in time and space.


EOSC-424 Advanced Mineral Deposits (co-taught with Prof James Scoates)

EOSC 424 provides a framework for examining processes responsible for the concentration of metals in the Earth’s crust and for assessing mineral potential in a given region based on available geologic information and constraints.

There are three different modules in this course that keyed to the frameworks above:

  1. Module 1: evaluation of the key mechanisms/processes for the concentration of metals (e.g., Ni-Cu-PGE-Cr-Ti) in magmatic ore deposits with an emphasis on the chemistry of magmas - first-half of course in lecture.
  2. Module 2: evaluation of the key mechanisms/processes for the croncentration of metals (e.g., Cu-Au-Mo-Ag) by hydrothermal processes with an emphasis on hydrothermal fluid flow, fluid:rock interaction, and alteration - second-half of course in lecture and lab.
  3. Module 3: introduction to ore petrography using reflected light microscopy (textures in ore minerals preserve a record of how they formed and were modified at low temperatures).

B.Sc - Auckland University
M.Sc. (Hons) - Auckland University
Ph.D. - James Cook University
Research Fellow - James Cook University; 1994-2000
Research Associate - Mineral Deposit Research Unit, UBC; 2000-2007

Graduate Students

  • MSc Geological Sciences
  • PhD Geological Sciences
  • MSc Geological Sciences

Quinton Willms, MSc Geological Sciences

Andrew Steiner, PhD Geological Sciences

Ehsan Salmabadi, MSc Geological Sciences