Tectonic Evolution and Cretaceous Gold Metallogenesis of Southwestern Alaska
Published:January 01, 2013
Garth E. Graham, Richard J. Goldfarb, Marti Miller, Kati Gibler, Mike Roberts, 2013. "Tectonic Evolution and Cretaceous Gold Metallogenesis of Southwestern Alaska", Tectonics, Metallogeny, and Discovery: The North American Cordillera and Similar Accretionary Settings, M. Colpron, T. Bissig, B. G. Rusk, J. F. H. Thompson
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Cretaceous gold metallogenesis in southwestern Alaska comprises three distinct episodes related to the accretionary evolution of northwestern North America. The oldest mineralizing event is characterized by 112 Ma Cu-Au-Bi-Te porphyry-type(?) veining in the zoned Bonanza and adjacent plutons that intruded rocks of the Nyac terrane. Tectonic reconstructions and limited geological and geochemical data suggest that Cu-Au mineralization in the Nyac district may be related to terminal subduction during accretion of the Togiak-Koyukuk arc. The subsequent 100 to 89 Ma metallogenic event is a product of subduction-related magmatism immediately following accretion of the Peninsular-Alexander-Wrangellia superterrane and includes formation of the giant Pebble porphyry Cu-Au-Mo deposit. Pebble underwent a complex history of highly oxidized magmatism that is isotopically linked to enriched lithosphere or metasomatized mantle sources. Pebble and other porphyryrelated plutons were emplaced as a consequence of changes in plate motion and onset of dextral transpression along the continental margin to the southeast of their present-day locations.
The final 75 to 65 Ma metallogenic event is regionally the most extensive. It followed a ~15-m.y.-long magmatic lull and is related to enigmatic subduction-related magmatism in the western part of the Alaska Range and the Kuskokwim basin. This event resulted in the formation of porphyry, reduced pluton-related, orogenic, and possible epithermal Au deposits. In the better-studied relatively low-relief areas of the Kuskokwim basin, many of the mineralized systems are spatially associated with ilmenite-series monzonite to quartz monzonite composite plutons that have isotopic signatures consistent with derivation from crustally contaminated mantle sources. These pluton-hosted Au deposits comprise low-sulfide stockworks, sheeted veins, and/or breccias in the cupolas of moderately differentiated intrusions that contain high Au; anomalous As, Bi, Sb, and/or Te; and have variable, but not uneconomic, Cu concentrations. In addition, Au, Sb, and/or Hg deposits hosted by competent NE-trending granite porphyry dike-sill complexes or along faults in flysch are widespread in the Kuskokwim basin. These deposits, including the giant Donlin Creek Au deposit, formed at shallow crustal levels and are classified here as epizonal orogenic Au deposits and related Hg and Sb lodes. Mesozonal orogenic Au deposits were formed along the margins of the uplifting Willow Creek pluton that is now exposed along the southern side of the Talkeetna Mountains batholith. Recent discoveries in the rugged Alaska Range comprise less well-studied porphyry Au-Cu (Whistler, Island Mountain), epithermal(?) Au (Terra), and reduced pluton-hosted Au deposits (Estelle).
The cause of the broad latest Cretaceous magmatism associated with the final metallogenic event is enigmatic, but indicates widespread high heat flow possibly related to flat-slab subduction, lithospheric mantle delamination, or escape tectonics. Plutonism postdated regional folding and coincided with periods of movement along regional faults and formation of the NE-trending structural fabric. Magmatism resulted from initiation of transpressional faulting in more landward positions during oblique subduction of the Kula plate. Crustal contamination of mantle melts, either near their source or during ascent through the thick flysch of the Kuskokwim basin, produced low oxidation state magmas and controlled much of the metallogeny, particularly for those deposits that display similarities to both reduced porphyry Au-Cu deposits and, to a lesser degree, reduced intrusion-related Au systems. High heat flow also induced crustal melting and metamorphic devolatilization to form orogenic Au deposits. A transition to extension at ~60 Ma recorded elsewhere in Alaska temporally corresponds to termination of gold deposit formation in southwestern Alaska. The multiple periods of gold metallogenesis in southwestern Alaska offer a wide variety of targets for exploration within discrete parts of the region.
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Tectonics, Metallogeny, and Discovery: The North American Cordillera and Similar Accretionary Settings
The northern Pacific Rim—for the purposes of this contribution—comprises the Mesozoic and Cenozoic magmatic-arc and associated terranes of eastern China, Korea, Japan, the Russian Far East, Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, the western United States, and Mexico. This ~1,800-km-long segment of the Pacific Rim is marked by a broad spectrum of metallogenic environments and mining jurisdictions, which combine to dictate where and how exploration is conducted and the overriding character of any resulting discoveries.
This summary report commences with a brief metallogenic overview of the northern Pacific Rim, with particular attention paid to the world-class Mesozoic and Cenozoic ore deposits that define the region’s premier metallogenic provinces. This is followed by a summary of the relative attractiveness of the region’s various mining jurisdictions, as recorded by recent exploration activity. The major discoveries made along the northern Pacific Rim, particularly during the past half century, are then placed in this metallogenic and regulatory context as a basis for determining the successful exploration methodologies employed. This discovery track record is then used to predict what the future of exploration in this vast and varied region may hold.
Much of the northern Pacific Rim, from eastern China and the Russian Far East in the northwest through Alaska to western parts of Canada, the United States, and Mexico in the southeast (Fig. 1), is characterized by a complex array of oceanic, accretionary prism, magmatic arc, and back-arc basin terranes and associated microcontinental blocks accreted to the North China, Siberian, Hyperborean, and North American cratons, mainly during Mesozoic times (Coney et al., 1980; Campa and Coney, 1983; Kojima, 1989; Nokleberg et al., 2005; Yakubchuk, 2009). The metallogeny of these tectonic collages is dictated by various combinations of pre-, syn-, and postaccretion ore-forming events, the last of which are generally preeminent, except in British Columbia (Nokleberg et al., 2005; Nelson and Colpron, 2007).
Although the Meso-Cenozoic metallogeny of the northwestern and northeastern Pacific quadrants displays some similarities, it is the contrasts that are most marked. The main contrasts stem from the preeminence of tin, tungsten, and antimony in eastern China, Korea, Japan, and the Russian Far East and of copper and silver in Western Canada, the conterminous United States, and Mexico. Nonetheless, both the northwestern and northeastern Pacific quadrants are exceptionally well endowed with gold and molybdenum deposits. The northeasternmost Russian Far East, Alaska, and Yukon Territory display elements of both northwestern and northeastern Pacific metallogeny (Fig. 1). These metallogenic contrasts between the northwestern and northeastern quadrants result in China being the world’s leading producer of tungsten, tin, bismuth, and antimony, mostly from its eastern Mesozoic metallogenic province.