Altai

(Map) the geological structure of the Altai
ALTAI, GEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE and MINERAL RESOURCES
BAM ZONE, TECTONICS and MINERAL RESOURCES

ALTAI (RU: Алтай) is the mountain system of Asia, which is situated on the territory of the USSR, Mongolia, and China. It extends from the north-west (from the West-Siberian Plain) to the south-east (Gobi) for the distance of more than 2,000 kilometres, with the maximal width of more than 500 kilometres from the Western Sayan at the east to the Irtysh river at the west.

It comprises the complex system of the strongly dissected ridges, which are forming the the watershed of the Ob, Irtysh, Yenisei rivers, of the rivers of the undrained region of the Central Asia, and of the intermountain basins, which are separating the ridges. The highest peaks rise in the western part (Belukha, 4506 metres).

Altai is divided into the Altai proper, or the Soviet Altai, Gobi Altai, and the Mongolian Altai (see the "Mongolia" article).

Soviet Altai is located within the Altai Territory of the RSFSR, and within the Eastern Kazakhstan region of the Kazakh SSR. Altai is separated by the bulge from the West Siberian Plain at the north, directly contacts with the Mongolian Altai and Western Sayan mountains at the south-east and east, gradually lowers itself at the west, getting within the limits of the Kazakh SSR the character of the low mountains and low hills. The highest ridges (higher than 3200-4000 metres), namely, the Katun, North-Chuiskiy and South-Chuiskiy, and others, are located in the central and eastern parts of the Soviet Altai, and have nearly latitudinal strike; the direction of the ridges changes at the north to the sub-meridional. There are widely distributed the intermountain basins (Chuiskaya, Kuraiskaya, Uimenskaya, Kanskaya, and others).

Altai is the powerful accumulator of the atmospheric moisture, thus Altai is the centre of the significant mountainous glaciation. There are known in the high ridges more than 1300 glaciers with the total area of approximately 900 square kilometres. The largest rivers by the flow of the water are: Katun, Bukhtarma, Chuya, Biya, Charysh. The hydraulic power resources of the rivers are large (12-13 million kilowatts). There exist more than 3,500 lakes (Lake Teletskoe, Lake Markakol, are the largest ones). There are clearly expressed at the Altai the soil and vegetation zones: the mountainous steppe, mountainous forest, and high mountainous. The steppe vegetation is distributed till the height of 500-600 metres at the north and 1000-1500 metres at the south. The forest belt is situated till the height of 1700-2000 metres, and occupies approximately 70% of the territory of the Altai. There predominate the fir, cedar-fir, and larch forests. There are common in the highland zone the subalpine and alpine meadows, and also the mountainous tundras. The climate of Altai is temperate, sharply continental. The average temperature of the January in the high mountains is from -26 to -30 degrees Celsius, the average temperature of the July is 13-14 degrees Celsius.

Geological structure and minerals. Altai is one of the links in the Ural-Mongolian geosynclinal belt; it represents itself as the complex folded system, which is formed by the Precambrian and Paleozoic strata, which are intensively deployed into the Caledonian and Hercynian eras of the tectogenesis. The folded structures have mainly the south-eastern to the north-western orientation. In the post-Paleozoic time, the folded and mountainous structures have been destroyed, and have been transformed into the denudation plain (peneplain).

Modern mountainous relief of Altai has formed itself as the result of the differentiated movement of the individual blocks at the Neogene and Quaternary time through the numerous faults, which was accompanied by the glaciation and intense erosive dismemberment.

They divide Altai according to the peculiarities of the geological structure into the Mountainous Altai and the South-Western Altai. The first one, which is occupying the largest, north-eastern part of Altai (approximately 4/5 of its territory), is mainly the Caledonian folded structure, while the South-Western Altai is the Hercynian structure. They distinguish within the limits of the latter the zones: the Ore Altai at the north-west, and the South Altai at the continuation of the Ore Altai to the south-east.

Certain researchers include into Altai the Kalba zone, which merges at the West with the Ob-Zaysan folded system of the Eastern Kazakhstan; it is formed by the siliceous-shale series of the Devonian and Lower Carboniferous, and also by the terrigenous sediments of the Middle Carboniferous. There are widespread the Late Paleozoic granites, including the intrusives of the Permian age. The South-Western Altai is separated from the Kalba zone by the Irtysh deep fault, and from the Mountainous Altai by the faults of the North-Eastern zone of the crumpling. There participate in the structure of the South-Western Altai the sedimentary-volcanogenic depositions of the Middle and Upper Devonian, and the terrigenous strata of the Lower Carboniferous, which are lying unconformably on the ancient (Lower Paleozoic) metamorphic schists; there are widely developed the granite massifs (Leninogorsk, Zmeinogorsk, and Kalba complexes). The thicknesses and the formational composition of the depositions, and also the character of the tectonic disturbances, testify about the anticlinorial structure of the Ore Altai, and about the synclinorial structure of the Southern Altai. There are distinguished in the Mountainous Altai several structural-formational zones of the north-western and sub-meridional strike.

The main tectonic structures (from west to east) are: the Talitskii anticlinorium (Lower Paleozoic); Holzunsko Chuiskiy anticlinorium (pre-Cambrian, Lower Paleozoic) at the south; there is situated to the east from the zone of the anticlinoria the large Anuysko-Chuiskiy synclinorium with thick (up to 10 kilometres) marine and continental Silurian and Devonian depositions of the geosynclinal-orogenic type. There is traced farther to the east the Katun anticlinorium, in which there have manifested itself the uplifts of the Salair epoch of the orogeny, which is characteristic for the regions of the Altai-Sayan region farther to the east. There is prominent farther to the east the Uymeno-Lebedskoy downfold (synclinorium), which is inheriting the strike of the folded structures of the Lower Paleozoic; its structure is generally similar to the structure of the Anuysko-Chuiskiy synclinorium. The Chulyshmanskiy and Abakanskiy anticlinoria, which are situated at the extreme east of the mountainous country, are more tightly associated with the Section of road in the valley of the Katun River

All these named large tectonic structures are bordered by the deep faults; there is characteristic for the folded-blocked structure of the Mountainous Altai the broad development of the faults of the lower orders. Many of them control the placement of the intrusions (for example, of the Salair granitoids in the Katun anticlinorium, of the Caledonian ones mainly in the zone of the Chulyshmanskiy anticlinorium, and of the Hercynian ones in the structures of the central and western parts of the Mountainous Altai, which are having the big significance in the metallogeny of Altai). In accordance with the strike of the main geological-structural zones at the Altai, there are prominent several ore belts (from east to west): mercury (Katun anticlinorium); molybdenum-tungsten, and iron ore (Holzunsko-Chuiskiy anticlinorium); polymetallic of the Ore Altai, tungsten-tin-copper of the Kalba zone.

There constitute the major wealth of the deep of the earth the polymetallic deposits of the Ore Altai (see map). They are localized in the region of the distribution of the Devonian volcanic strata, tightly associated with them genetically, forming the family of the lead-zinc-copper-barite pyrite deposits of the volcanogenic origin.

The major deposits of the copper-lead-zinc ores are: the Korbalihinskoe, Stepnoe, Talovskoe, Nikolaevskoe, Belousovskoe, Berezovskoe, and others; the deposits of the lead-zinc ores are: the Ridder-Sokolnoe (Leninogorskoe), Zyryanovskoe, and others. Altai is famous since the old times by the rich depositions of the marble, and by the valuable decorative stones (jaspers, porphyries, and others). There are confined to the Cenozoic faults the 4 groups of the sources of the thermal waters: Abakanskiy Arzhan, Belokurikhinskie (from the Biysk city to the south), Rakhmanovskie, and Dzhumalinskie sources.

The history of the development of the mineral resources. The earliest evidences about the usage of the stone for the making of the tools belong to the Paleolithic epoch (approximately 100-50 thousand years ago). There has started in the 5th-4th millennium BC the extraction of the clays for the making of the ceramic tableware. In the epoch of copper and bronze, Altai becomes one of the largest centres of the smelting of the metals. They suppose that the date of the earliest copper ore workings is the 3rd millennium BC. The mining works gain the special momentum in the middle of the 2nd-1st half of the 1st millennium BC, when there were developed the ore bodies of the majority of the now known copper, lead, and tin deposits, which are emerging at the surface: Ridder-Sokolnoe, Zolotushinskoe, Zyryanovskoe, and others.

Mountainous Altai

There were extracted predominantly the oxidized copper ores. They performed the extraction of the gold at the Kazanchukur. Narym and Kalba tin mines had the special significance for the ancient metallurgy of, besides Altai, the huge territories of the Northern Asia and also of the Eastern Europe. The mining works in the Bronze Age were performed by the various methods: by the continuous open areas with the working out of the richest parts of the deposits; by the open pit mines (the depth down to 30 metres) with the local extraction of the mineral veins; by the adits (down to 70 metres), which were also following the directions of the ore veins. The heading of the hard rocks was performed with the help of the "burning". There have been found the mining-heading tools and implements for the crushing of the ore: stone hammers, horny and bronze picks, pickaxes, wedges. The roofs of the adits were supported by the wood. They hauled out the ore in the leather bags. They ised as the ladders the tree trunks with the notches or with the preserved boughs. There are also known the places of the smelting of the copper and tin ores (Kanai, Trushnikov). The artifacts of the tin and tin bronzes, which have been smelted at the Altai, are sometimes found in Kazakhstan, Western Siberia, the Urals, and Eastern Europe. The decline of the copper and tin ore crafts starts to manifest itself in the early Iron Age (from the end of the 1st millennium BC to the 1st millennium AD). Seems that the development of the iron ore deposits starts at the same time, although the concrete facts about the ancient mines are practically absent. Equally scarce are the facts about the mining craft at the Altai in the Middle Ages. There remained from the ancient miners, besides the mining excavations, the melting pots and bronze implements. There have been found during the excavation of the burial mounds in the valleys of the Katun, Charysh, Aley rivers the bronze, silver, and gold cups, which are decorated with the depictions of the birds and animals. The traces of the mining-processing activities of the ancient inhabitants of Altai have provided the great help to the Russian settlers in the prospecting for the ore.

In the 20s of the 18th century, there has been discovered by the prospectors of Demidov (the Urals industrialist of the Altai) near the Lake Kolyvanskoe the deposit of the ores, and there has been founded the Loktevskiy (Kolyvano-Voskresenskiy) copper smelting plant, the first at the Altai, and later there have emerged the Barnaul and Shulbinsky copper plants (1739-44). There has been discovered in 1736 the Zmeinogorskoe deposit, from the ores of which they have started to extract silver and lead. There has been issued at the start of 1746 the decree about the transfer of the Altai mines and plants into the property of the tsarist family, the populating of the Altai has intensified. Despite the remoteness from the industrial provinces, there successfully developed itself in the Altai mining region the mining craft. The village on the Barnaulka river, which was inhabited by the artisans and miners, has become in 1771 the Barnaul city, the centre of the control of the entire mining region. There has discovered itself in 1786 the Ridderovskoe deposit of the polymetallic ores (lead, copper, gold, silver), then the Zyryanovskoe deposit of the silver-lead ores, and approximately 800 others, of which there were developed only several tens. In the 1780s, the extraction of the silver and gold has reached the largest sizes. According to the order of the empress Catherine II, there has been founded the grinding plant at the old Loktevsky copper smelting plant. By the start of the 19th century, Altay has got the 1st place in the Russia in the mining and smelting of the lead and silver. Silver was transported to the St. Petersburg, and there were minted from the copper since the 18th century at the Suzunskiy plant the "Siberian", and later the all-Russian small change coins. The level of the mining-extracting technology from the end of the 18th to the start of the 19th centuries not allowed yet to develop the complex polymetallic ores with the tightly intergrown fine grains of the sulphurous ore minerals. There were extracted at the Altai mines (including at the richest Ridderovskiy) only fusible oxidized ores of the upper zones, after which the development was terminated.

The start of the research of the Altai by the Russian scientists belongs to the 1st half of the 18th century. There have visited the Altai D.G.Messershmidt in 1721, I.Gmelin in 1734, P.S.Pallas in 1771. The geological researches by P.A.Chikhachev (1842), G.E.Shurovskiy (1844), and by the engineers of the Mining Department, have assisted to the expansion of the mineral raw material base of the metallurgical plants of the Altai. The first geological map of the Altai at the scale of approximately 1:1,000,000 has been constituted by Chikhachev, and has been published in 1845 in Paris. After the peasant reform of 1861, the mining craft at the Altai has started to decline. The tsarist government has lent into the concession the series of the mining enterprises and plants. At the start of the 20th century, the important scientific results have been obtained thanks to the geological researches by V.A.Obruchev, V.K.Katulskiy, P.P.Pilipenko, and other geologists, but the mining craft at the Altai continued to remain at the low level till the October Revolution of 1917. There has started in the soviet time the comprehensive planned study of the whole territory of the Altai. There have provided the great contribution the scientific expeditions with the participation of V.P.Nekhoroshev, M.K.Korovin, M.A.Usov, N.I.Gornostaev, B.F.Speranskiy, K.V.Radugin, V.A.Kuznetsov, M.V.Muratov, D.I.Gorzhevskiy, G.F.Yakovlev, and others.

The mining industry. The planned prospecting and exploration have caused the discovery of the series of the new deposits of the ores of the non-ferrous and rare metals, gold, mercury, coloured and ornamental stones, non-metallic minerals, which have reborn the mining industry of this region. During the years of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, the Altai has transformed itself into the powerful economic region with the highly developed mining-extracting industry. The middle-scale geological survey has been performed on the almost complete territory, and the large-scale survey has been performed in the mining-ore regions. There have been uncovered hundreds of the deposits and ore manifestations of the minerals.

The modern Altai, as the geological-structural unit, occupies the three large economic regions of the USSR: Kazakhstan, Western Siberian, and partially the Eastern Siberian. The deposits of the Altai, which are various in type, quality, and scales, serve as the base of the mining-extracting and processing industry, which is complex in the technology. There work on the basis of the deposits of the Altai the Ust-Kamenogorsk lead-zinc, Leninogorsk polymetallic, Irtysh polymetallic, Belogorsk mining-beneficiation, Zyryanovsk lead, combined enterprises. There function on the basis of the Kulunda salts the Slavgorod chemical plant, Kuchuk sulfate and Mikhailovsk soda combined enterprises, Burlin salt extraction business. There is working the Aktash mine. There have been developed on the basis of the mineral raw material resources the metal working, machinery building, industry of the non-metallic building materials (the "Altaistroymaterialy" productive consortium).

The energetic economy of the Altai is based on the coal of the Kuzbass, and also on the hydro-energy of the Ob, Biya, Katun, and Charysh rivers. The main producers of the energy are the Ust-Kamenogorsk and Bukhtarma (on the Irtysh river) (HPP) hydro-power plants. The large mining-beneficiation plants have transformed themselves into the economic centres and nodes of the concentration of the industry (Ust-Kamenogorsk, Leninogorsk, and others), around which there form themselves the auxiliary (complementary) and new productive enterprises. The major mining-ore regions of the Altai are: South-Altaic (copper, gold, mercury, lead, zinc), Ore-Altaic (lead, zinc, copper, barite), Mountainous-Altaic (mercury, tungsten, gold), Kulundinsk (salts, sulfates). The extraction of the mineral building materials is performed in almost all regions. Many types of the mineral raw materials are used for the tiling of the built structures and various artifacts (marble, jasper, augite rocks, gypsum).