Time Scales of Mineral Systems—Advances in Understanding Over the Past Decade
Massimo Chiaradia, Urs Schaltegger, Richard Spikings, 2014. "Time Scales of Mineral Systems—Advances in Understanding Over the Past Decade", Building Exploration Capability for the 21st Century, Karen D. Kelley, Howard C. Golden
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The establishment of accurate time scales of mineral systems is essential to construct reliable genetic models about their formation. Time scales of fossil mineral systems are directly determined through radiometric dating of different stages of development of the mineral system. In theory, porphyry systems are, among mineral systems, those whose duration can be bracketed with most accuracy and precision, because of the universal occurrence of ore and gangue minerals that can be dated with the high precision U-Pb zircon, Re-Os molybdenite, and 40Ar/39Ar dating techniques.
Time scales of fossil porphyry systems reported in the literature range between <0.1 to >4 Ma. The long durations (>1 Ma) of magmatic-hydrothermal activity measured in several porphyry systems are likely the result of multiple magmatic pulses in agreement with field observations indicating that porphyry systems are associated with several intrusive events. Nonetheless, estimated long durations could also be affected by methodological problems. One methodological problem is the accuracy of the intercalibration among the three different methods. It has become evident during the last 15 years that 40Ar/39Ar dates are systematically younger compared to U-Pb dates. This has been attributed to incorrect values of the secondary standard (Fish Canyon Tuff sanidine), most commonly used to calculate 40Ar/39Ar ages, and/or of the 40K decay constant. Systematic cross calibrations to check the consistency between Re-Os and U-Pb dates are lacking and should also be carried out.
Another possible cause of erroneous long durations of porphyry systems concerns the way to determine the emplacement age of the causative intrusion. The current high precision (≤0.1%) of single zircon U-Pb dating by isotope dilution-thermal ionization mass spectrometry (ID-TIMS) shows that zircon grains extracted from a single sample of intermediate/felsic magmatic rocks do not overlap in age. This is so because zircon grains record a protracted evolution of magmas within the crust lasting several hundreds of thousands of years. Under these conditions, the emplacement age of a magmatic intrusion is best approximated by the youngest ID-TIMS age measured from a population of zircon grains. In contrast, spot ages measured with in situ techniques, due to their lower precisions (1-3%), are not able to discriminate such protracted magmatic evolution recorded by different zircon grains. This allows pooling together spot ages of different zircons, resulting in a statistically significant mean age with a low uncertainty. In reality this is a mixed age that is characteristically older (by up to a few hundreds of thousands of years) than the age of the youngest single zircon grain measured by ID-TIMS. A further problem in estimating the duration of magmatic-hydrothermal activity in porphyry systems derives from the widespread use of 40Ar/39Ar dating. Because this method does not date the crystallization of a mineral but rather its cooling below its closure temperature, 40Ar/39Ar dates may be affected by (hydro-)thermal activity that postdates the mineralization.
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Earth’s near-surface mineralogy has diversified over more than 4.5 b.y. from no more than a dozen preplanetary refractory mineral species (what have been referred to as “ur-minerals” by Hazen et al., 2008) to ~5,000 species (based on the list of minerals approved by the International Mineralogical Association; http://rruff.info/ima). This dramatic diversification is a consequence of three principal physical, chemical, and biological processes: (1) element selection and concentration (primarily through planetary differentiation and fluidrock interactions); (2) an expanded range of mineral-forming environments (including temperature, pressure, redox, and activities of volatile species); and (3) the influence of the biosphere. Earth’s history can be divided into three eras and ten stages of “mineral evolution” (Table 1; Hazen et al., 2008), each of which has seen significant changes in the planet’s near-surface mineralogy, including increases in the number of mineral species; shifts in the distribution of those species; systematic changes in major, minor, and trace element and isotopic compositions of minerals; and the appearance of new mineral grain sizes, textures, and/or morphologies. Initial treatments of mineral evolution, first in Russia (e.g., Zhabin, 1979; Yushkin, 1982) and subsequently in greater detail by our group (Hazen et al., 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013a, b; Hazen and Ferry, 2010; Hazen, 2013), focused on key events in Earth history. The 10 stages we suggested are Earth’s accretion and differentiation (stages 1, 2, and 3), petrologic innovations (e.g., the stage 4 initiation of granite magmatism), modes of tectonism (stage 5 and the commencement of plate tectonics), biological transitions (origins of life, oxygenic photosynthesis, and the terrestrial biosphere in stages 6, 7, and 10, respectively), and associated environmental changes in oceans and atmosphere (stage 8 “intermediate ocean” and stage 9 “snowball/hothouse Earth” episodes). These 10 stages of mineral evolution provide a useful conceptual framework for considering Earth’s changing mineralogy through time, and episodes of metallization are often associated with specific stages of mineral evolution (Table 1). For example, the formation of complex pegmatites with Be, Li, Cs, and Sn mineralization could not have occurred prior to stage 4 granitization. Similarly, the appearance of large-scale volcanogenic sulfide deposits may postdate the initiation of modern-style subduction (stage 5). The origins and evolution of life also played central roles; for example, redox-mediated ore deposits of elements such as U, Mo, and Cu occurred only after the Great Oxidation Event (stage 7), and major Hg deposition is associated with the rise of the terrestrial biosphere (stage 10; Hazen et al., 2012).