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Abstract

A variety of metals and deposit types define the metallogeny of the Andes from Colombia through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to Argentina and Chile, although porphyry copper and epithermal gold deposits undoubtedly predominate and will continue to do so. Discoveries over the last 30 yrs or so, predominantly in the central Andes and especially Chile, have been made using routine, field-based geologic and complementary geochemical methods, a situation that is considered unlikely to change radically in the foreseeable future. The only clearcut evolutionary change is the increased number of deposits being discovered beneath pre- and postmineral cover. The predictive capacity of conceptual geology has had minimal impact on the Andean discovery record but is thought to offer much promise for the future. This introductory article selects mineralization styles and relationships as well as some broader metallogenic parameters as simple examples of geologic concepts that may assist exploration. Emphasis is placed on porphyry copper ± molybdenum ± gold and high-, intermediate-, and lowsulfidation epithermal gold ± silver deposits, although reference is also made to several carbonate rock-hosted precious and base metal deposit types and styles as well as subvolcanic tin, volcanogenic massive sulfide, and slate-belt and intrusion-related gold deposits. Particular emphasis is placed on the potential for exceptionally high grade porphyry copper, porphyry gold, epithermal gold, and subvolcanic tin deposits. Deposits resulting from the oxidation, enrichment, and chemical transport of copper and zinc and mechanical transport of gold and silver during supergene weathering are also briefly highlighted.

Introduction

The Andes—host to the world’s largest copper (El Teniente, Chile), silver (Potosí, Bolivia), and tin (Llallagua, Bolivia) deposits and the third largest gold deposit (Yanacocha, Peru)— have been a favorite exploration venue for the last 20 yrs and currently (2003) lead the world in total exploration expenditure (roughly 25%; Chender, 2004). Nevertheless, exploration dollars are split inequitably among the Andean nations, with Chile and Peru taking the lion’s share and Argentina a distant third. These three countries, in common with much of the Andes, have widely recognized potential but also proven track records of recent discoveries. Nongeologic factors have a negative impact on the interest shown in some Andean countries, especially Colombia and Bolivia, and the newly deteriorating law-and-order situation in Peru may expose that country to the risk of cuts in exploration activity.

It is well known that porphyry copper and epithermal gold deposits are the premier exploration targets throughout the Andes (Fig. 1) for both major and junior companies, and it would be an audacious pundit, indeed, who predicted any substantive change in the foreseeable future. This situation makes the topic of this article rather difficult, some might say redundant, but the intention is to highlight aspects of widely accepted metallic mineral deposit models and their metallogeny that have perhaps been underappreciated, at least in some quarters.

Fig. 1.

Approximate axes of the principal metallogenic belts defined by different genetic types of copper, gold, silver, zinc, and tin deposits in the Andes and their corresponding metallogenic epochs. Key deposit locations beyond main metallogenic belts: A = Aguilar, FN = Farallón Negro, NO = Nazca-Ocoña, PP = Pataz-Parcoy, and SC = San Cristóbal.

Fig. 1.

Approximate axes of the principal metallogenic belts defined by different genetic types of copper, gold, silver, zinc, and tin deposits in the Andes and their corresponding metallogenic epochs. Key deposit locations beyond main metallogenic belts: A = Aguilar, FN = Farallón Negro, NO = Nazca-Ocoña, PP = Pataz-Parcoy, and SC = San Cristóbal.

The mineralization styles promoted briefly below are not designed to be of exclusive interest to the major mining corporations but to include a variety of suitable targets for the juniors as well as for domestic explorers, a sector that needs strengthening for the sake of the health of the entire industry. The discussion that follows adopts a geologic approach, although the day-to-day realities of exploration obviously need to take account of commercial, regulatory, social, and environmental concerns and, even if sustainability in the true sense is unattainable, at least strive for harmony among all stakeholders through a commitment to international best practice. In particular, we have learned over the past few years that nonmining population centers and their environs, whatever their metallogenic attractions, are to be given a wide berth at the grassroots exploration stage.

This brief and somewhat personalized introductory article is not meant to be anywhere near exhaustive in its coverage of the topic but simply to set the scene for the rest of the papers in this volume, most of which expand on issues raised and are cited where appropriate.

Epithermal Gold Deposits

Epithermal gold deposits of high-, intermediate-, and low-sulfidation types (Hedenquist et al., 2000; Sillitoe and Hedenquist, 2003) are widely represented throughout the Andes, and both vein and bulk-tonnage deposit styles are well known.

Recent experience in the Andes, most notably in northern Chile and immediately adjoining parts of Argentina and in northern Peru, has emphasized that the largest deposits, in terms of contained ounces, are of high-sulfidation type and, more particularly, tend to represent the shallow, immediately subsurface parts of areally extensive lithocaps (Fig. 2). Enormous rock volumes that are highly permeable for lithologic (ignimbrite, volcaniclastic rock), structural, and/or hydrothermal (breccia, leaching) reasons are a requirement for the development of these large high-sulfidation deposits, which include Yanacocha, Pierina, and Alto Chicama in Peru and Veladero and Pascua-Lama in Argentina-Chile (e.g., Volkert et al., 1998; Harvey et al., 1999; Jones et al., 1999; Araneda et al., 2003; Deyell et al., 2004). The shallow exposition of the gold mineralization is confirmed by the common partial preservation of steam-heated zones developed above paleo-water tables (Sillitoe, 1999; Deyell et al., 2004). Clustering of the largest deposits, as exemplified by the eight Yanacocha orebodies and Pascua-Lama plus nearby Veladero, emphasizes the importance of targeting the vicinities of high-sulfidation deposits. Deep supergene oxidation is a prerequisite for the development of ore in most of these systems because of the typically refractory nature and low grade of the hypogene gold mineralization. In marked contrast to these extremely large deposits, poorly fractured andesitic or dacitic plugs, domes, and lavas tend to develop only volumetrically restricted high-sulfidation mineralization.

Fig. 2.

Schematic representation of the telescoped linkage between porphyry copper ± gold and high- and intermediate-sulfidation epithermal environments. Note positions of low-grade, bulk-tonnage, and bonanza gold deposits, and hypogene copper sulfide enrichment (summarized from Sillitoe, 1999).

Fig. 2.

Schematic representation of the telescoped linkage between porphyry copper ± gold and high- and intermediate-sulfidation epithermal environments. Note positions of low-grade, bulk-tonnage, and bonanza gold deposits, and hypogene copper sulfide enrichment (summarized from Sillitoe, 1999).

Many explorers have fantasized about finding a Round Mountain analogue: a large, low-grade, low-sulfidation gold deposit hosted by nonwelded ignimbrite (e.g., Sander, 1988) or, potentially, other permeable rock units. The possible existence of such a deposit in the ignimbrite-rich Patagonian province (see below) as well as elsewhere has been addressed by several groups but to date without success.

Notwithstanding the existence of the well-described bonanza precious metal shoots at the El Indio gold-silver-copper deposit, Chile in an areally extensive lithocap (Jannas et al., 1999; Heather et al., 2003; Deyell et al., 2004), little attention has been paid to bonanza gold concentrations in lithocaps, especially those exposed at intermediate, deepepithermal levels (~≥500 m; Sillitoe, 1999; Fig. 2). Although commonly restricted in tonnage, such bonanza shoots can be high revenue earners. The recent discovery of the telluriderich Chipmo gold deposit in the longstanding Orcopampa epithermal precious metal district of southern Peru (Mayta et al., 2002) is a good example and emphasizes how subtle such targets can be, especially where largely concealed beneath barren parts of lithocaps.

In addition to high-sulfidation deposits, bonanzas also occur in both intermediate- and low-sulfidation epithermal systems. Of these, however, low-sulfidation veins are judged to offer the greatest bonanza potential, with the added advantage of the sulfide-poor ore generally being environmentally and metallurgically benign. Many low-sulfidation deposits appear to accompany bimodal magmatic suites during rifting in intra-, near-, and back-arc settings (John, 2001; Sillitoe and Hedenquist, 2003). The Patagonian region of southern Argentina and neighboring Chile, during Late Jurassic accumulation of the rhyolite-dominated Chon Aike Group, constitutes probably the best known Andean back-arc regime of this type, which is host to the Cerro Vanguardia (Zubia et al., 1999), recently discovered Esquel (Sillitoe et al., 2002), and several smaller deposits (Figs. 1, 3). A similar, albeit Permo-Triassic felsic rock-dominated and compositionally similar bimodal suite, the Choiyoi Group, occurs farther north in Argentina and Chile (Kay et al., 1989; Fig. 3), and it must be asked if it too might host unrecognized low-sulfidation bonanza gold veins (cf. Sillitoe, 1992) in view of the fact that mineralization of this type was recently reported (Sotarello et al., 2002).

Fig. 3.

Generalized distributions with main outcrop areas shown) of the Jurassic Chon Aike Group in Patagonia and the Permo-Triassic Choiyoi Group farther north in the Andes (after Franzese et al., 2002). Principal low-sulfidation epithermal gold deposits in Patagonia are also shown.

Fig. 3.

Generalized distributions with main outcrop areas shown) of the Jurassic Chon Aike Group in Patagonia and the Permo-Triassic Choiyoi Group farther north in the Andes (after Franzese et al., 2002). Principal low-sulfidation epithermal gold deposits in Patagonia are also shown.

Nevertheless, extension within arcs can also give rise to conditions propitious for low-sulfidation bonanza formation, with El Peñón, northern Chile (Robbins, 2000; Warren et al., 2004) providing a good example. High-grade, low-sulfidation gold veins are also exploited in southern Peru (Fig. 1) at Ares (Candiotti and Guerrero, 2002) and Antapite (Vidal et al., 2002) besides the better known, silver-dominated, intermediate-sulfidation deposits (e.g., Arcata, Orcopampa), although it remains to be seen if they correspond to any of the pulses of extension and bimodal volcanism documented preliminarily by Noble et al. (1999). A valuable lesson learned in low-sulfidation camps, especially at Esquel, El Peñón, Ares, and Antapite, is that both high-grade and true bonanza ore shoots are commonly “blind” and display only subtle, if any, overlying evidence for their existence. Anomalously high arsenic and antimony values overlie some blind veins, as documented at El Peñón (Warren et al., 2004). The pinch out of low-sulfidation veins at depths as great as several hundred meters beneath the paleosurface commonly seems to be attributable to fault refraction or termination caused by incompetent stratigraphic horizons.

The Andes lack significant examples of low-sulfidation epithermal gold deposits related genetically to alkaline magmatism, although the existence of isolated alkaline centers, several reminiscent of Cripple Creek, Colorado, in being located along the eastern side of the orogen (e.g., Ahlfeld and Schneider-Scherbina, 1964; Stewart, 1971), suggests that potential may exist. Indeed, late Tertiary magmatism, albeit of high K calc-alkaline to shoshonitic composition, occupying this tectonic position in central-western Argentina does have minor associated gold mineralization (Urbina et al., 1997).

Another epithermal relationship of exploration utility is the transition between the high- and intermediate-sulfidation epithermal types (Fig. 2) consequent upon decrease of sulfidation state, neutralization, and reduction during continued upward and outward fluid flow (Sillitoe and Hedenquist, 2003). This transition is clearly observable in carbonate host rocks in the well-zoned Colquijirca district of central Peru, where the high-sulfidation environment encompasses both enargite-gold and zinc-lead-silver mineralization (Fontboté and Bendezú, 1999; Vidal and Ligarda, 2004). The zinc-lead-silver zone, however, spans the proximal high-sulfidation and more distal intermediate-sulfidation environments, as corroborated by the change of the accompanying gangue from alunite, dickite, and/or kaolinite to various carbonate species (Fontboté and Bendezú, 1999; Bendezú et al., 2003). A similar high- to intermediate-sulfidation transition was recently documented in volcanic host rocks at El Indio (Heather et al., 2003). In most high-sulfidation epithermal districts, however, the actual transition to intermediate-sulfidation mineralization is typically cryptic because of the existence of barren gaps, as at Orcopampa, a situation that complicates search for visually subdued intermediate-sulfidation deposits around highly prominent high-sulfidation (lithocap) centers (Fig. 2). Low-sulfidation deposits do not appear to possess a clearly observed association with high- and intermediate-sulfidation deposits and ultimately may well be linked to deeper basaltic magma sources (Noble et al., 1988; Sillitoe and Hedenquist, 2003).

Plio-Pleistocene inter- or postglacial weathering of the topographically salient high-sulfidation epithermal environment in the central Andes has given rise to a spectrum of unusual precious metal deposits that developed near source without the intervention of placer concentration. These include the 10.2-million oz (Moz) La Quinua gold deposit at Yanacocha, which is hosted by dominantly coarse grained glaciofluvial sediments that inherit three-quarters of the gold grade present in the nearby bedrock source (Williams and Calderón, 2000; Mallette et al, 2004), the silver-bearing debris flow deposits (pallacos) on the flanks of Cerro Rico at Potosí, Bolivia (Bartos, 2000), and the landslide block detached from the Farellón gold-silver orebody at La Coipa, northern Chile (Oviedo et al., 1991; J.L. Illanes, pers. commun., 1999). It is easy to underestimate the potential economic significance of such detrital materials, especially where weathered recessively and masked by surficial accumulations.

Porphyry Copper ± Molybdenum ± Gold Deposits

Several recent investigators have emphasized the temporal and spatial coincidence of large, high-grade hypogene porphyry copper ± molybdenum ± gold deposits in the central Andes, and elsewhere, and pulses of contractional tectonism accompanied by rapid surface uplift and enhanced denudation rates (e.g., Kurtz et al., 1997; Sillitoe, 1998; Maksaev and Zentilli, 1999; Kay and Mpodozis, 2002; Perelló et al., 2003). The Andean porphyry copper belts that possess such a setting are the premier middle Eocene to early Oligocene belt of northern Chile-southern Peru, Paleocene to early Eocene belt of southern Peru, and late Miocene to Pliocene belt of central Chile (Fig. 1). Whatever the relationship between compression and porphyry copper genesis—perhaps inhibition of volcanism, consequent development of larger parental magma chambers, and, hence, liberation of larger volumes of copper-charged fluid (Sillitoe, 1998)—it is clear that continued exploration in these belts is likely to be rewarded with success; however, all three belts constitute relatively mature plays in which concealment of undiscovered deposits beneath advanced argillic lithocaps (Fig. 2) or postmineral alluvial and volcanic cover is highly probable. The recent blind porphyry copper discoveries at Gaby (Camus, 2001), Toki (Rivera and Pardo, 2004), Quetena (Rivera et al., 2003), and Antapaccay (Fierro et al., 2002) in the middle Eocene to early Oligocene belt, as well as elsewhere, underscore this likelihood.

In addition to the regional tectonic controls on the size and grade of porphyry copper ± molybdenum ± gold deposits, it is empirically evident that the nature of wall rocks is also a cogent control on grade development. Particularly favorable host rocks seem to include massive, thickly bedded carbonate units because of their impermeability, especially when mar-bleized, and ferrous iron-rich rocks because of their ability to induce copper precipitation. The mafic sill complex that hosts much of the El Teniente deposit (Lindgren and Bastin, 1922; Skewes et al., 2002; Maksaev et al., 2004) may have played the latter role and assisted with development of the deposit’s large size and high hypogene grade (>1% Cu). Exploration might be focused on districts possessing such potentially favorable rock types.

Another parameter that has been reemphasized as a result of the recent major discoveries in the Chuquicamata district (Rivera and Pardo, 2004) is the marked clustering of porphyry copper ± molybdenum ± gold deposits within areas of <200 km2. The clusters typically approximate alignments rather than equidimensional groupings of deposits, with the individual centers being strung out either parallel (e.g., Chuquicamata district) or transverse (e.g., Quebrada Blanca-Collahuasi and Río Blanco-Los Bronces districts) to Andean strike (Fig. 4), a factor that could facilitate exploration planning. Arc-parallel and arc-transverse deposit alignments presumably reflect fundamental structural controls, at least some of those across arcs possibly of great antiquity (e.g., Richards et al., 2001). Clearly, if a company is lucky enough to own or gain access to the environs of a single porphyry copper deposit, the priority exploration ground is brownfields and the approach clearcut.

Fig. 4.

Examples of markedly aligned porphyry copper clusters in northern Chile. a. The orogen-transverse Quebrada Blanca-Collahuasi district. b. The orogen-parallel Chuquicamata district (after Rivera et al., 2003).

Fig. 4.

Examples of markedly aligned porphyry copper clusters in northern Chile. a. The orogen-transverse Quebrada Blanca-Collahuasi district. b. The orogen-parallel Chuquicamata district (after Rivera et al., 2003).

In recent years, it has become apparent that gold-rich porphyry systems tend to be concentrated in belts, such as the Maricunga belt of northern Chile (Vila and Sillitoe, 1991) and the Cajamarca belt of northern Peru (Sillitoe, 1998; Noble and McKee, 1999), or solitary districts (e.g., Farallón Negro, northwestern Argentina; Sasso and Clark, 1998; Fig. 1). However, they may also exist anywhere as isolated entities in belts dominated by porphyry copper-molybdenum deposits (Sillitoe, 1998; Rivera et al., 2004), as emphasized by recent discoveries of gold-rich deposits at La Fortuna-El Moro (Perelló et al., 1996; Paleczek and Cáceres, 2003), Esperanza (Perelló et al., 2004a), and Cotabambas (Perelló et al., 2004b) in the middle Eocene to early Oligocene belt of northern Chilesouthern Peru (Fig. 1). The economic viability of gold-rich porphyry deposits in the Andes has not been convincingly demonstrated to date, with Bajo de la Alumbrera in the Farallón Negro district arguably being the most successful project. Nevertheless, in the same way that Grasberg, Indonesia, expanded the then known grade frontiers of porphyry copper-gold deposits, it may be postulated that substantially higher grade gold-only porphyry deposits exist in the Andes. It seems eminently reasonable, for example, to suggest that deposits containing double the grade of Lobo and Marte (1.4–1.8 g/t Au; Vila and Sillitoe, 1991) remain to be found and would be of considerable interest to the major gold companies constantly in need of additional ounces since porphyry gold mineralization is not generally refractory. It is important to propose that porphyry gold mineralization is not a feature of only the shallow tops of porphyry copper-gold deposits, as concluded by Muntean and Einaudi (2000), but represents a gold-only end member of the porphyry deposit clan, favored by shallow subvolcanic intrusion, which appears to undergo little systematic change in Au/Cu ratios with depth. Porphyry gold prospects are known principally from the late Oligocene to Miocene belt (Fig. 1) but also from the middle Eocene to early Oligocene belt in northern Chile and southern Peru and are judged to be an underexplored mineralization style.

In some porphyry copper ± molybdenum ± gold deposits characterized by extreme telescoping of alteration and mineralization zones, the basal parts of lithocaps overprint the apical parts of quartz veinlet stockworks. The latter are developed during potassic alteration and may contain part or all of the metal inventory in the form of chalcopyrite ± bornite plus any associated native gold. The superposition of these two geochemically different environments may induce hypogene copper enrichment (and concomitant impoverishment in gold) as the potassic alteration is converted to sericite ± dickite ± pyrophyllite assemblages and the low-sulfidation copper-iron sulfides are transformed to high-sulfidation—state covellite, chalcocite, and/or bornite in intimate association with neoformed pyrite (Sillitoe, 1999; Gustafson et al., 2004; Fig. 2). There is a strong suggestion that copper and gold are remobilized from the preexisting potassic alteration rather than being introduced directly from the underlying parental magma chambers (cf. Brimhall and Ghiorso, 1983).

In porphyry copper deposits with well-developed supergene enrichment blankets, it is difficult to discriminate between the superficially similar hypogene and supergene copper sulfide minerals, as discussed by Ossandón et al. (2001) in the case of Chuquicamata. Recognition of the hypogene nature of the copper sulfide minerals is more straightforward where supergene effects are limited or absent, although the danger still exists of confusing hypogene with supergene enrichment. A hypogene origin for copper sulfide minerals implies that their vertical extent may exceed that of a typical supergene enrichment blanket as well as presenting the possibility that the underlying potassic alteration zone may be richer in gold. In common with supergene enrichment zones, hypogene copper sulfide minerals may also be amenable to heap leaching and copper recovery by solvent extraction-electrowinning, especially if gold contents have been reduced to a level that contributes little to deposit economics.

The economic importance of supergene oxidation and enrichment in many central Andean porphyry copper deposits, including most of the producers in northern Chile and southern Peru, cannot be overemphasized. While supergene profiles are generally immature and actively developing throughout much of the Andes, those in the hyperarid parts of northern Chile became essentially fossilized in the Miocene, beginning at ~14 Ma, as aridity intensified (Alpers and Brimhall, 1988). Most porphyry copper exploration for the last 20 yrs in northern Chile has sought oxidized or enriched zones beneath alluvial and/or volcanic cover. It is being increasingly realized, however, that indiscriminate search beneath cover may well fail because supergene profiles are poorly developed or even absent beneath old, say >~25 Ma postmineralization cover in the middle Eocene to early Oligocene belt, although mature profiles may still underlie cover as old as ~40 Ma in the older belts of northern Chile (Sillitoe and McKee, 1996; Bouzari and Clark, 2002). Older cover sequences are generally proxied by appreciable thicknesses (say, >250 m) of piedmont gravel. The ultimate prize beneath cover, besides high-grade chalcocite enrichment like that beneath the exposed leached capping at the Escondida porphyry copper deposit (Ojeda, 1990; Padilla-Garza et al., 2004), is a high-grade oxidized zone dominated by sulfate minerals, including water-soluble species like chalcanthite and kröhnkite. Such oxidized material, developed by in situ oxidation of mature chalcocite enrichment zones, occurred shallowly at Chuquicamata and was the first ore mined and sulfuric-acid leached, at great profit (Jarrell, 1944).

In the arid weathering environment of northern Chile, exotic oxide copper deposits were commonly formed in piedmont gravel and subjacent bedrock alongside pyritic porphyry copper deposits during supergene oxidation and enrichment as a result of the lateral migration of copper-charged supergene solutions (e.g., Münchmeyer, 1996). Recent exploration in the middle Eocene to early Oligocene belt has discovered exotic deposits both unrelated to outcropping porphyry copper mineralization (e.g., El Tesoro; Mora et al., 2004) and near known porphyry copper deposits (e.g., Sillitoe, 2000a), as well as expanded the resources of several known exotic deposits. To date, however, an ore-grade enrichment blanket has still to be encountered alongside an exotic deposit of unknown source (e.g., Sagasca in the Paleocene-early Eocene belt; cf. Sillitoe, 1992).

Other Copper Deposit Types

Several other types of copper mineralization, besides the economically dominant porphyry copper and related skarn deposits, exist in the Andes, of which iron oxide-copper-gold deposits in northern Chile-southern Peru and so-called manto-type deposits in northern and central Chile are the most important (Fig. 1). Although only two districts of iron oxide-copper-gold type, Candelaria-Punta del Cobre (Marschick and Fontboté, 2001) and Mantoverde (Vila et al., 1996), are formal producers, they remain a perhaps surprisingly popular exploration objective. Uncertainty surrounding the origins of iron oxide-copper-gold and manto-type copper-(silver) deposits is believed to have seriously impeded discovery given the likelihood for concealment beneath both pre-and postmineralization cover, a situation nicely exemplified by recent discovery of the Mina Justa deposit in the Marcona district of southern Peru (Moody et al., 2003).

Sillitoe (2003) argued for a fairly conventional magmatic-hydrothermal origin for both hematite- and magnetiterich Andean iron oxide-copper-gold deposits in association with dioritic intrusions in preference to involvement of magmatically heated brine of basinal origin (e.g., Hitzman, 2000). Whichever origin is preferred, deposits seem to be localized by regional-scale fault systems, with the largest deposits being composite in the sense of encompassing a variety of mineralization styles and occurring in steep to low-angle faults and/or within intrinsically permeable volcaniclastic units, sometimes beneath impermeable caprocks, such as carbonate sequences. Importantly for exploration, dioritic intrusions occur alongside some iron oxide-copper-gold deposits, which commonly also share the controlling fault zones with dioritic dikes (Sillitoe, 2003), although the latter are often difficult to identify at the early drilling stage because of compositional similarities with the volcanic wall rocks.

Some investigators (e.g., Orrego et al., 2000) favor a close genetic linkage between iron oxide-copper-gold and mantotype copper-(silver) deposits in northern Chile. This relationship would have major exploration implications, but this writer feels that more evidence is needed to substantiate it. Irrespective of any connection to iron oxide-copper-gold deposits, the origin of manto-type deposits is contentious in its own right. Both magmatic-hydrothermal (Holmgren, 1987) and metamorphic basinal (Sato, 1984; Sillitoe, 1992; Maksaev and Zentilli, 2002) fluid sources have been proposed. Nevertheless, at a district scale, all the large deposits (Mantos Blancos, El Soldado, and Lo Aguirre) abut regionally persistent redox boundaries indigenous to the host Mesozoic volcano-sedimentary sequences (Sillitoe, 1992), a relationship that greatly aids at the grassroots stage. During brownfields and prospect-scale exploration of mantotype deposits, the characteristic zoning from hypogene chalcocite-bornite assemblages accompanied by albitechlorite alteration in proximity to the redox front through chalcopyrite to minor peripheral pyrite both laterally and downward is an effective targeting tool.

Polymetallic Deposits

Andean deposits containing several base and precious metals include some skarn and carbonate-replacement deposits, especially in northern Peru (Fig. 1), as well as volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits in central and northern Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. The Antamina deposit in northern Peru, a porphyry copper-related calcic skarn, is the largest example of its type, at least in part because much of the mineralized roof zone of the porphyry stock, not only its flanks, is preserved (O’Connor, 1999; Redwood, 2004). Some of the VMS deposits may be particularly attractive targets for smaller players because of high metal, including gold contents (e.g., 5% Cu and 8 g/t Au at Macuchi, Ecuador; Stoll, 1962). Interestingly, at least two distinct VMS environments occur: intra-arc basins of Early Cretaceous age in central and northern Peru (e.g., Cerro Lindo and Tambogrande; Injoque, 1999; Winter et al., 2004) and early Tertiary accreted arcs of intraoceanic origin in the Western Cordillera of Ecuador and Colombia (Reynaud et al., 1999).

An unconventional but probably not unique polymetallic deposit occurs at San Cristóbal in the Altiplano of southwestern Bolivia (Fig. 1), where a large tonnage of potentially economic, disseminated mineralization grading 62 g/t Ag, 1.67 percent Zn, and 0.58 percent Pb is hosted by fine-grained volcaniclastic rocks that accumulated in a restricted lacustrine setting in association with a dacitic dome complex (Buchanan, 2003). The adularia-rich, disseminated mineralization may be assigned to the intermediate-sulfidation epithermal type, although Buchanan (2003) suggested a transition to the VMS category, albeit formed beneath lake- not seawater. Although higher grade veins and disseminated bodies have long been known from the domes (Ahlfeld and Schneider-Scherbina, 1964), much of the topographically recessive, disseminated mineralization has an extremely subtle expression, which is further masked by severe supergene depletion of zinc values at surface (L.J. Buchanan in Sillitoe 2000a).

Zinc Deposits

Given the pessimistic outlook for the zinc market, little zinc exploration is being carried out or planned in the Andes or elsewhere for that matter. The two major zinc-dominated deposit types, carbonate replacement and Mississippi Valley type, are both hosted by Mesozoic carbonate rocks in central and northern Peru (Fig. 1). Moreover, they may have both formed at broadly the same time in the Miocene during regional contraction marked by thrusting, albeit from very distinct magmatic and basinal brines, respectively (Noble and McKee, 1999; Badoux et al., 2001; Noble et al., 2004). A case may perhaps be made for the largest carbonate-replacement deposits, exemplified by Cerro de Pasco and Colquijirca, having formed in association with dome-diatreme complexes at relatively shallow epithermal depths astride the high- to intermediate-sulfidation boundary (e.g., Fontboté and Bendezú, 1999; see above) rather than at greater paleodepths in association with intrusive stocks. To these zinc deposit types may be added the long-exploited Aguilar sedimentary-exhalative (Sedex) deposit, part of an early Paleozoic rift sequence in northwestern Argentina (Sureda and Martín, 1990; Fig. 1).

In view of the deeply developed supergene profiles in parts of the central Andes, oxidized zinc deposits potentially amenable to extraction by heap leaching and solvent extraction-electrowinning need to be borne in mind. The small Accha deposit in southern Peru (Carman et al., 1999) exemplifies supergene nonsulfide zinc mineralization developed essentially in situ by oxidation of a carbonate-replacement sulfide body. Nevertheless, given the extreme mobility of zinc under acidic weathering conditions, appreciable lateral transport of the metal may take place from pyritic deposits hosted by noncarbonate lithologies (Hitzman et al., 2003). Hence, exotic zinc mineralization, analogous to that better known in northern Chile for its copper content (see above), may be hypothesized under appropriate chemical and hydraulic conditions. Indeed, zinc is a subordinate component of the Mina Sur exotic copper deposit (Marey et al., 2003; Fig. 4) alongside the Chuquicamata porphyry copper deposit, itself anomalously rich in zinc (Ossandón et al., 2001). However, in contrast to copper, oxidized zinc minerals are difficult to detect visually and may not be suspected, especially where present in dispersed form and unaccompanied by limonite. However, liberal use of zinc zap goes some way to overcoming this problem (see Hitzman et al., 2003).

Tin Deposits

Grassroots tin exploration ceased many years ago in the Bolivian tin-silver province and its short extensions into southern Peru and northwestern Argentina (Fig. 1). Nevertheless, in view of the likely existence of undiscovered high-grade cassiterite veins, like those exploited in the first decades of the 20th century at Llallagua and elsewhere in Bolivia, this situation is perhaps somewhat surprising. The economic potential of such high-grade veins, containing >5 and, locally, >10 percent Sn (Turneaure, 1960; Ahlfeld and Schneider-Scherbina, 1964), is shown by the highly profitable San Rafael operation in southern Peru, where a vertically zoned tin-copper vein is hosted by a peraluminous granite porphyry stock of latest Oligocene age (Kontak and Clark, 2002; Mlynarczyk et al., 2003). Recent documentation of advanced argillic lithocaps, similar to those better known from the porphyry copper environment, in the upper parts of several modestly eroded tin systems in Bolivia opens the possibility of blind tin veins concealed beneath both lithocap remnants (Sillitoe et al., 1998) and underlying rocks. This situation was described at Potosí (Turneaure, 1960), where the giant silver deposit is lithocap hosted and of high-sulfidation type (Sillitoe et al., 1998).

Carbonate Rock-Hosted Precious Metal Deposits

Several isolated and somewhat unusual gold and silver deposits in the Andes are assignable to the skarn, carbonate-replacement, and sediment-hosted categories. Nambija, in the Jurassic porphyry copper belt of southern Ecuador (Fig. 1), is a high-grade, sulfide-deficient gold deposit contained in garnet-rich calcic skarn (Fontboté et al., 2004). Jerónimo, in the middle Eocene to early Oligocene porphyry copper belt of northern Chile (Fig. 1), is a strata-bound carbonate-replacement deposit formed in proximity to the high-sulfidation lithocap environment (Thompson et al., 2004). Uchucchacua, currently the premier silver producer in the Andes, is a highgrade, carbonate-replacement chimney-manto deposit in northern Peru (Fig. 1) and, like Jerónimo, is manganese rich (Fig. 1; Bussell et al., 1990; Petersen et al., 2004). Gualca-mayo, in central-western Argentina, comprises a low-grade porphyry molybdenum system, proximal auriferous skarn (Sillitoe, 1992), and nearby disseminated gold-(arsenic) mineralization reminiscent of sediment-hosted (Carlin-type) deposits (Dircksen, 2003). Mineralization spanning this spectrum of deposit types might be anticipated wherever intrusion-related hydrothermal systems affected calcareous rocks, especially at shallow paleodepths and in association with porphyry centers. However, by analogy with the lithologic settings of the Carlin and other gold trends of northern Nevada (e.g., Hofstra and Cline, 2000), thinly bedded, silty carbonate sequences are likely to be a requirement for the occurrence of large sediment-hosted gold deposits on the peripheries of intrusion-centered systems. Nevertheless, some workers (e.g., Hofstra and Cline, 2000) distinguish true Carlin-type deposits from sediment-hosted gold mineralization with a clear intrusive affiliation, although the grounds for the distinction are often vague.

Slate-Belt Gold Deposits

Attention was drawn previously to slate-belt (orogenic) gold deposits, comprising saddle reefs, bedding-parallel veins, and associated mineralization styles, in penetratively deformed, but weakly metamorphosed turbidite sequences of early Paleozoic age in northwestern Argentina, western Bolivia, and southern Peru (Fig. 1) as valid exploration targets (Sillitoe, 1992; Haeberlin et al., 2002). The opinion is based on the fact that the early Paleozoic host rocks share the margin of the Gondwana supercontinent with similar sequences elsewhere, most notably in eastern Australia, including the closely comparable Ballarat-Bendigo slate-belt gold district. A modest amount of exploration has been carried out over the last decade or so, with the 2.3-Moz Pederson gold deposit in Bolivia (Orvana Minerals Corporation, 1997) being the best result to date. Further potential is predicted, possibly including high-grade ore shoots like those exploited >100 yrs ago at Santo Domingo, in the Peruvian part of the belt (~120 g/t Au; Fuchs, 1900).

Exploration programs perhaps need to take more account of recent models for this deposit type in the central Andes (e.g., Rodríguez et al., 2001) and elsewhere. These suggest that mixed arenaceous-pelitic sequences and faulted anticlines of broad wavelength are especially favorable geologic indicators, and that the widespread antimony occurrences in the early Paleozoic belt (Ahlfeld and Schneider-Scherbina, 1964) represent the shallow parts of slate-belt systems, potentially above maximal gold concentrations (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5.

Schematic model for slate-belt gold deposits in the central Andes, showing vertical zoning of gold and antimony. a. Broad-wavelength anticline associated with large gold concentration. b. Lower order folds with small gold concentrations (modified after Rodríguez et al., 2001).

Fig. 5.

Schematic model for slate-belt gold deposits in the central Andes, showing vertical zoning of gold and antimony. a. Broad-wavelength anticline associated with large gold concentration. b. Lower order folds with small gold concentrations (modified after Rodríguez et al., 2001).

Intrusion-Related Gold Deposits

Worldwide controversy over the distinction, if any, between orogenic (including slate-belt) and intrusion-related gold deposits of mesothermal character (e.g., Goldfarb et al., 2001) carries over to the central Andes. The auriferous quartz sulfide veins hosted by an oxidized (high redox state) granodiorite batholith of Late Carboniferous age in the Pataz-Parcoy district of northern Peru (Fig. 1) have been assigned magmatic-hydrothermal (Schreiber et al., 1990), possibly magmatic-hydrothermal but postbatholith (Macfarlane et al., 1999), and nonmagmatic (Haeberlin et al., 2002) origins. However, there would be little dissent if the auriferous pyrite-quartz-carbonate veins of the Nazca-Ocoña district in southern Peru (Fig. 1) were related genetically to the host intrusions, mainly oxidized tonalite-granodiorite phases of the Late Cretaceous Coastal batholith (Vidal, 1985), or if the bulk-tonnage gold deposit at Kori Kollo, Bolivia, a shallow-level member of the lithophile element-gold association, were linked directly to the reduced, peraluminous, Miocene magmatism of the tin-silver belt (Thompson et al., 1999; Fig. 1). Notwithstanding the genetic debate, distinction between mesothermal gold deposits in either oxidized or reduced intrusions and those of slate-belt type is an important aid to the Andean explorationist because of their widely differing geologic settings, characteristics, geometries, and zoning. Nevertheless, it seems that neither of these intrusion-related mesothermal gold deposit types is widely represented in the central Andes, although examples affiliated to oxidized Mesozoic plutons are far more commonplace in the northern Andes of Colombia (Lozano and Buenaventura, 1990).

Discovery Methodology

In the same manner that observed deposit distributions and types are the best guides to future exploration areas and targets, exploration methodologies employed successfully in the not-too-distant past remain the best bet for future discovery. The Andes figured prominently in analyses of base and precious metal discovery case histories around the Pacific Rim over the last 34 yrs ((Sillitoe, 1995, 2000a). Therefore the principal conclusions of these studies are directly applicable to the Andes and point to a preferred exploration approach thought likely to maximize the chances of discovery.

Of the 32 principal base and precious metal discoveries in the Andes over the last 34 yrs (Fig. 6a)—all but ten now in or about to enter production or worked out—20 (63%) are in Chile, six in Peru, four in Argentina, and two in Bolivia. The deposit types represented are porphyry copper ± molybdenum ± gold (14), high-sulfidation epithermal (7), low-sulfidation epithermal (3), porphyry gold (2), exotic copper (2), in-termediate-sulfidation epithermal silver-zinc-lead (1), iron oxide-copper-gold (1), bulk-tonnage, intrusion-related gold (1), and detrital gold alongside a high-sulfidation epithermal deposit (1; Mallette et al., 2004). Twenty-nine (88%) of the case histories highlight the crucial role of conventional geologic fieldwork techniques (Fig. 6b), including mapping and standard geologic observation and interpretation, 22 (69%) describe use of geochemistry (Fig. 6c), mainly rock-chip and/or soil (talus fines) methods, and 9 percent note a contribution made by ground geophysics (induced polarization and electromagnetic methods; Fig. 6d). Half of these discoveries were the outcome of formal, district- or regional-scale programs designed for the deposit type eventually discovered, and 69 percent involved long-term (≥5 yrs) commitment on the part of the explorer. Regional airborne geophysics and partial- or selective-extraction geochemistry, widely used in the central Andes over the last 15 yrs or so, played no appreciable part in any of the discoveries. This fact stands out in the case of iron oxide-copper-gold deposits, a particular focus of airborne geophysical exploration.

Fig. 6.

Methods contributing to discovery of principal base and precious metal deposits in the Andes during the last 34 yrs. a. Discovery year and deposit name. b. Geologic work. c. Geochemistry. d. Geophysics. e. Serendipity and drilling (not guided by the other methods). Most of the data extracted from Sillitoe (1995, 2000a) and, for discoveries since 2000, from Corrales (2001), Sillitoe et al. (2002), Araneda et al. (2003), Rivera et al. (2003), and Rivera and Pardo (2004).

Fig. 6.

Methods contributing to discovery of principal base and precious metal deposits in the Andes during the last 34 yrs. a. Discovery year and deposit name. b. Geologic work. c. Geochemistry. d. Geophysics. e. Serendipity and drilling (not guided by the other methods). Most of the data extracted from Sillitoe (1995, 2000a) and, for discoveries since 2000, from Corrales (2001), Sillitoe et al. (2002), Araneda et al. (2003), Rivera et al. (2003), and Rivera and Pardo (2004).

Six (19%) of the discoveries were made near operating mines and another 14 (44%) in old mining districts or nearby documented mineral occurrences, many already explored over many decades (Fig. 7). Moreover, 12 (38%) of the prospects had been explored previously by at least one competitor company. Thirteen (41%) of the deposits were identified as color anomalies, either on the ground, from the air, or from aerial photographs but, rather surprisingly, none using satellite imagery. Tellingly, there has been little clearcut change in most of these statistics over the last decade compared to those for the previous two (Sillitoe, 2000a), although it is fair to say that ground geophysics, drilling, and serendipity (chance finds) have played greater roles since 1995 (Fig. 6de). The other noteworthy change is the marked increase in the number of concealed deposits discovered since 1990 (9) compared to the previous 20 yrs (1; Fig. 7). It is sad to record that conceptual geology, over and above routine geologic analysis of a district or prospect, has played an obvious role in only one discovery. Even drilling divorced from geoscientific work and serendipity, contributors to three and five discoveries each (Fig. 6e), figure more prominently.

Fig. 7.

Sites of outcropping and concealed (beneath pre- or postmineral cover) base and precious metal deposits discovered in the Andes from 1969 to 2003 in terms of location with respect to operating mines and old mining districts or known mineral occurrences. Note that there is no outcropping deposit near an operating mine. Sources as for Figure 6.

Fig. 7.

Sites of outcropping and concealed (beneath pre- or postmineral cover) base and precious metal deposits discovered in the Andes from 1969 to 2003 in terms of location with respect to operating mines and old mining districts or known mineral occurrences. Note that there is no outcropping deposit near an operating mine. Sources as for Figure 6.

Based on these results and their lack of any dramatic evolutionary change, it is concluded that future exploration programs in the Andes for base and precious metals should rely on well-founded geologic techniques carefully integrated with conventional geochemistry and should make judicious use of prospect-scale geophysics if and where necessary. Notwithstanding the poor showing of conceptual geologic thinking, its potential for predictive discovery is evident, and it should be increasingly brought to bear wherever possible. Indeed, this article takes it for granted, albeit in its most basic form. Exploration of known districts or near known mineral showings merits high priority: sound evidence for the existence of mineralization, even if minor or low grade, must be considered a good start to any exploration program. The increased number of concealed discoveries, 50 percent of the total over the last 8 yrs (Fig. 7), is thought likely to be a continuing trend with major importance for exploration planning. In view of this discovery record, it is my view that reliance and major expenditure on geochemical methods of an experimental nature and on airborne geophysics must be seriously questioned in the Andes, although the latter does offer a means, albeit an expensive one, of crudely mapping concealed bedrock geology. Several other parameters vital for exploration success appear to be as applicable to the Andes as they are elsewhere in the circum-Pacific region (Sillitoe, 2000a), namely (1) deployment of an elite exploration team, (2) maximal contact time with the rocks, (3) familiarity with relevant ore deposit models, and (4) persistence in the face of initially somewhat discouraging results. There is, of course, a fine line between the merits of persistence and the excesses of overkill.

Finally, a strong case may be made—applicable at least to the major companies that should be able to afford a longer term view of exploration—for assignment of some small proportion of exploration budgets to basic grassroots exploration beyond the known and defined metallogenic belts schematized in Figure 1. This component is justifiable when it is recognized that a number of ore deposits, including several of giant status, do not fit readily into defined deposit models and might even be considered as unique (e.g., Sillitoe, 2000b). Furthermore, this is the only strategy for detection of new metallogenic belts. The jungle-covered Eastern Cordillera and flanking Subandean belt from Colombia through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to northwestern Argentina must be considered prime virgin territory in the Andes for unanticipated deposit types containing gold and/or base metals. Initial exploration forays into this logistically challenging region, based principally on drainage geochemistry, have already resulted in discovery of Jurassic porphyry copper deposits in southern Colombia and southern Ecuador (Sillitoe et al., 1984; Gendall et al., 2000; Fig. 1) and Mississippi Valley-type zinc mineralization in northern Peru (W.A. Wodzicki, pers. commun., 2003; Fig. 1), and additional, perhaps better deposits undoubtedly await the intrepid and successful explorer.

Concluding Remarks

This introductory article highlights some geologic relationships and analogies that could be used as guides by the Andean explorationist, both during initial planning and area selection and at various stages of program implementation. Numerous additional geologic and metallogenic factors and relationships exist and could be equally useful. Such geologic concepts, no matter how simple, have a predictive capacity and can therefore help with the complex process of targeting, over and above the direct testing of geologic, geochemical, and geophysical anomalies. Geologic concepts abound in the literature but, to my mind, constitute an underutilized resource in Andean exploration. Integration of more such concepts into the exploration process is believed to offer a means of at least maintaining the current discovery rate. Some other practitioners, however, would advocate state-of-the-art geo-chemical and geophysical techniques as panaceas for future discovery rather than integrating tried-and-tested methodology into fundamentally geologic programs, irrespective of the deposit type under exploration.

Nevertheless, the burgeoning cost of Andean discovery when calculated, for example, on a cents/lb Cu equiv or dol-lars/oz Au equiv basis shows that viewed industry-wide the return on investment has become wholly inadequate, especially in the case of the mature porphyry copper belts of northern Chile. Therefore only those players adopting the very best exploration strategies, models, and techniques and fielding the most competitive teams will be able to reduce the exploration risk to the point that the rewards are satisfactory.

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Acknowledgments

The authors of the following 18 papers in this volume are thanked for their contributions, around which this introductory article is crafted. Rich Leveille, Pepe Perelló, and John Thompson are thanked for reviews and Claudio Montecinos for drafting.

Figures & Tables

Fig. 1.

Approximate axes of the principal metallogenic belts defined by different genetic types of copper, gold, silver, zinc, and tin deposits in the Andes and their corresponding metallogenic epochs. Key deposit locations beyond main metallogenic belts: A = Aguilar, FN = Farallón Negro, NO = Nazca-Ocoña, PP = Pataz-Parcoy, and SC = San Cristóbal.

Fig. 1.

Approximate axes of the principal metallogenic belts defined by different genetic types of copper, gold, silver, zinc, and tin deposits in the Andes and their corresponding metallogenic epochs. Key deposit locations beyond main metallogenic belts: A = Aguilar, FN = Farallón Negro, NO = Nazca-Ocoña, PP = Pataz-Parcoy, and SC = San Cristóbal.

Fig. 2.

Schematic representation of the telescoped linkage between porphyry copper ± gold and high- and intermediate-sulfidation epithermal environments. Note positions of low-grade, bulk-tonnage, and bonanza gold deposits, and hypogene copper sulfide enrichment (summarized from Sillitoe, 1999).

Fig. 2.

Schematic representation of the telescoped linkage between porphyry copper ± gold and high- and intermediate-sulfidation epithermal environments. Note positions of low-grade, bulk-tonnage, and bonanza gold deposits, and hypogene copper sulfide enrichment (summarized from Sillitoe, 1999).

Fig. 3.

Generalized distributions with main outcrop areas shown) of the Jurassic Chon Aike Group in Patagonia and the Permo-Triassic Choiyoi Group farther north in the Andes (after Franzese et al., 2002). Principal low-sulfidation epithermal gold deposits in Patagonia are also shown.

Fig. 3.

Generalized distributions with main outcrop areas shown) of the Jurassic Chon Aike Group in Patagonia and the Permo-Triassic Choiyoi Group farther north in the Andes (after Franzese et al., 2002). Principal low-sulfidation epithermal gold deposits in Patagonia are also shown.

Fig. 4.

Examples of markedly aligned porphyry copper clusters in northern Chile. a. The orogen-transverse Quebrada Blanca-Collahuasi district. b. The orogen-parallel Chuquicamata district (after Rivera et al., 2003).

Fig. 4.

Examples of markedly aligned porphyry copper clusters in northern Chile. a. The orogen-transverse Quebrada Blanca-Collahuasi district. b. The orogen-parallel Chuquicamata district (after Rivera et al., 2003).

Fig. 5.

Schematic model for slate-belt gold deposits in the central Andes, showing vertical zoning of gold and antimony. a. Broad-wavelength anticline associated with large gold concentration. b. Lower order folds with small gold concentrations (modified after Rodríguez et al., 2001).

Fig. 5.

Schematic model for slate-belt gold deposits in the central Andes, showing vertical zoning of gold and antimony. a. Broad-wavelength anticline associated with large gold concentration. b. Lower order folds with small gold concentrations (modified after Rodríguez et al., 2001).

Fig. 6.

Methods contributing to discovery of principal base and precious metal deposits in the Andes during the last 34 yrs. a. Discovery year and deposit name. b. Geologic work. c. Geochemistry. d. Geophysics. e. Serendipity and drilling (not guided by the other methods). Most of the data extracted from Sillitoe (1995, 2000a) and, for discoveries since 2000, from Corrales (2001), Sillitoe et al. (2002), Araneda et al. (2003), Rivera et al. (2003), and Rivera and Pardo (2004).

Fig. 6.

Methods contributing to discovery of principal base and precious metal deposits in the Andes during the last 34 yrs. a. Discovery year and deposit name. b. Geologic work. c. Geochemistry. d. Geophysics. e. Serendipity and drilling (not guided by the other methods). Most of the data extracted from Sillitoe (1995, 2000a) and, for discoveries since 2000, from Corrales (2001), Sillitoe et al. (2002), Araneda et al. (2003), Rivera et al. (2003), and Rivera and Pardo (2004).

Fig. 7.

Sites of outcropping and concealed (beneath pre- or postmineral cover) base and precious metal deposits discovered in the Andes from 1969 to 2003 in terms of location with respect to operating mines and old mining districts or known mineral occurrences. Note that there is no outcropping deposit near an operating mine. Sources as for Figure 6.

Fig. 7.

Sites of outcropping and concealed (beneath pre- or postmineral cover) base and precious metal deposits discovered in the Andes from 1969 to 2003 in terms of location with respect to operating mines and old mining districts or known mineral occurrences. Note that there is no outcropping deposit near an operating mine. Sources as for Figure 6.

Contents

GeoRef

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