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 an ~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. Uranium-lead zircon ages for 49 samples from plutons and porphyries range from Carboniferous to Eocene (~314–35 Ma). Al-in-hornblende emplacement depths for 19 plutons are ~4–7 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.—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, by a combination of the two.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was funded by BHP. We are grateful to all the BHP staff in Chile who helped us with field work, particularly Carlos Galdames, Aldo Vásquez, Jamie King, Chris Ford, Guil-herme Andrade Santos, and Walter Jimenez. All sampling was conducted with written permission from mining and exploration companies holding exploration permits. We thank Anglo American, Antofagasta Minerals, Codelco, Collahuasi, ENAMI, Freeport-McMoran, Glencore, Minera Escondida, Minera Meridian, Sumitomo Corporation, Teck Resources, and Vale for granting us sampling permission. We thank Edward Bunker, Luke Neal, and Anne Mather for field assistance; Dan Condon at the British Geological Survey for field assistance and helpful discussions about U-Pb geochronology; Stuart Kearns and Ben Buse for technical assistance with the SEM and electron microprobe; Vanessa Pashley and Matthew Horstwood at the British Geological Survey for help with the U-Pb analyses; Tom Knott and Lin Marvin-Dorland at the University of Leicester for help with whole-rock geochemistry analyses; and Isa Witick for assistance with compiling the final manuscript. We appreciate the constructive reviews provided by Jose Piquer, Eduardo Campos, and David Cooke, and we thank Larry Meinert and David Cooke for their editorial handling of the manuscript.
© 2022 Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY-NC license.