Pluton exhumation in the Precordillera of northern Chile (17.8– 24.2°S): Implications for the formation, enrichment, and preservation of porphyry copper deposits

Simon Dahlstrom, Frances Cooper, Jon Blundy, Simon Tapster, Jaime Cortes, Laura Evenstar

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Hypogene mineralization in porphyry Cu deposits is typically associated with crustal thickening and rapid exhumation whereas supergene enrichment requires slow exhumation to allow sufficient time for leaching and downward transport of Cu before it is lost to surface erosion. Therefore, spatial and temporal patterns of exhumation within a metallogenic belt can highlight favorable locations for hypogene mineralization, supergene enrichment, and preservation. Here, we determine average pluton exhumation rates along a ~730 km segment of the Middle Eocene–Early Oligocene metallogenic belt in northern Chile (17.8–24.2°S). By combining zircon U-Pb geochronology with Al-in-hornblende geobarometry we pinpoint the time and depth at which each pluton was emplaced and use the age of overlying cover units or supergene minerals to date its arrival at the surface (or near-surface) environment.
    U-Pb zircon ages for forty-nine samples from plutons and porphyries range from Carboniferous to Eocene (~314–35 Ma). Al-in-hornblende emplacement depths for 19 plutons are ~4 to 7 km, with one Carboniferous pluton emplaced at ~12 km. Two phases of net exhumation are identified: Early Permian–Middle Triassic and Middle Eocene–Late Oligocene, with an intervening period of net burial. The highest exhumation rates (>0.30 km/m.y.) derive from the second phase, coeval with the Incaic orogeny and the main phase of hypogene mineralization. Present-day preservation of plutons and porphyry Cu deposits required low post-Oligocene average exhumation rates of <~0.01 km/m.y. which was favorable for the development of many world-class supergene blankets. However, spatial variability in exhumation and burial across the belt led to poor conditions for supergene development locally: Enrichment was hampered in some places by rapid exhumation after hypogene mineralization (e.g., ≥~4 km at El Abra), by burial beneath significant cover (e.g., Ministro Hales, Queen Elizabeth), or, in the Inti region of northernmost Chile, a combination of the two.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEconomic Geology
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 17 Sep 2021

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