From a long-lived upper-crustal magma chamber to rapid porphyry copper emplacement: Reading the geochemistry of zircon crystals at Bajo de la Alumbrera (NW Argentina)

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Abstract

The formation of world class porphyry copper deposits reflect magmatic processes that take place in a deeper and much larger underlying magmatic system, which provides the source of porphyry magmas, as well as metal and sulphur-charged mineralising fluids. Reading the geochemical record of this large magmatic source region, as well as constraining the time-scales for creating a much smaller porphyry copper deposit, are critical in order to fully understand and quantify the processes that lead to metal concentration within these valuable mineral deposits. This study focuses on the Bajo de la Alumbrera porphyry copper deposit in Northwest Argentina. The deposit is centred on a dacitic porphyry intrusive stock that was mineralised by several pulses of porphyry magma emplacement and hydrothermal fluid injections. To constrain the duration of ore formation, we dated zircons from four porphyry intrusions, including pre-, syn- and post-mineralisation porphyries based on intersection relations between successive intrusion and vein generations, using high precision CA-ID-TIMS. Based on the youngest assemblages of zircon grains, which overlap within analytical error, all four intrusions were emplaced within 29 ka, which places an upper limit on the total duration of hydrothermal mineralisation. Re/Os dating of hydrothermal molybdenite fully overlaps with this high-precision age bracket. However, all four porphyries contain zircon antecrysts which record protracted zircon crystallisation during the ∼200 ka preceding the emplacement of the porphyries. Zircon trace element variations, Ti-in-zircon temperatures, and Hf isotopic compositions indicate that the four porphyry magmas record a common geochemical and thermal history, and that the four intrusions were derived from the same upper-crustal magma chamber. Trace element zoning within single zircon crystals confirms a fractional crystallisation trend dominated by titanite and apatite crystallisation. However, zircon cathodoluminescence imaging reveals the presence of intermediate low luminescent (dark) growth zones in many crystals from all intrusions, characterised by anomalously high Th, U and REE concentrations and transient excursions in trace element ratios. A return to the same fractionation trend after this excursion excludes external compositional forcing such as magma mixing. Instead we interpret the “dark-zones” to record zircon crystallisation during a transient event of rapid growth that resulted from mafic magma injection into the base of the magma chamber, releasing a CO2-rich vapour phase into the dacitic crystal mush. We propose that this vapour phase then migrated upwards to the apical part of the magma chamber from where it was expelled, together with successive batches of magma, to form the porphyry copper deposit within a short time-span of less than a few 10,000 years. The short duration of host rock emplacement, hydrothermal alteration and mineralisation presented in this study provides critical constraints on fluid storage in magma chambers and the genesis of large porphyry copper deposits.

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Buret, Y., von Quadt, A., Heinrich, C., Selby, D., Wälle, M., & Peytcheva, I. (2016). From a long-lived upper-crustal magma chamber to rapid porphyry copper emplacement: Reading the geochemistry of zircon crystals at Bajo de la Alumbrera (NW Argentina). Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 450, 120–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2016.06.017

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