Cenozoic Tectonics and Porphyry Copper Systems of the Chilean Andes
Constantino Mpodozis, Paula Cornejo, 2012. "Cenozoic Tectonics and Porphyry Copper Systems of the Chilean Andes", Geology and Genesis of Major Copper Deposits and Districts of the World: A Tribute to Richard H. Sillitoe, Jeffrey W. Hedenquist, Michael Harris, Francisco Camus
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Subduction under South America has been active for the past 550 m.y. but large porphyry copper deposits were essentially emplaced during the Paleocene (60–50 Ma) in southern Peru, and mid-Eocene-early Oligocene (43–32 Ma) and late Miocene-Pliocene (10–6 Ma) in north and central Chile. Although the tectonic setting of the Paleocene porphyry deposits is still poorly understood, those of the northern Chile Eocene-Oligocene belt were emplaced along the margin-parallel Domeyko fault system, where active compressional and/ortranspressional deformation and block rotations took place during the formation of the Bolivian orocline. Eocene-early Oligocene oroclinal bending was a consequence of differential tectonic shortening focused along a mechanically weak zone of the Central Andean crust inherited from the Paleozoic. Deformation occurred during an episode of accelerated westward absolute motion of the South American plate, which coincided with very high rates of oceanic crust production in the eastern Pacific. The slow South American-Farallon convergence rates recorded for the Eocene-Oligocene suggest, however, that strong interplate coupling existed during that time. This permitted the transfer of horizontal stresses and large-scale deformation of the Andean margin, creating a favorable scenario for the generation and emplacement of porphyry copper magmas along the Domeyko fault system.
The younger, Miocene-Pliocene porphyry copper deposits of central Chile-Argentina were emplaced in a different setting, after the initiation of compressional deformation within a volcano-tectonic depression (Abanico basin) that evolved during another, late Oligocene to early Miocene, period of increased East Pacific oceanic crust production. Nevertheless, in contrast to the Eocene-Oligocene situation in northern Chile, the relatively stationary position of the South American plate compared to the mantle reference frame and weak interplate coupling that permitted rapid subduction, increased volcanism, and overriding plate extension. Tectonic inversion of the basin and compressional deformation along with crustal thickening and mountain building began at around 20 m.y. ago as interplate coupling increased when the westward motion of South America accelerated and the Nazca-South America convergence velocity decreased in the mid-Miocene. Compression was accompanied, as during the Eocene-Oligocene in northern Chile, by slab shallowing and increased fore-arc subduction erosion.
In both cases, the largely structurally controlled, syn- to post-tectonic porphyry copper deposits are associated with long-lived magmatic systems that were active for more than 10 m.y. In northern Chile, the deposits occur as parts of discrete intrusive clusters that comprise a suite of precursor plutons emplaced during multiple events since the Cretaceous. Porphyry copper mineralization is linked to multistage, amphibole-bearing intrusions of intermediate composition derived from hydrous, oxidized magmas with adakitic geochemical signatures. These intrusions appeared when crustal thickness increased to a critical threshold in the course of deformation. Production of magmas with high metal-carrying capacity was fostered as fluids were liberated when amphibole became unstable and was destroyed as the crust thickened. At the same time, source regions within the mantle were contaminated by hydrated fragments of fore-arc continental crust, as the result of enhanced subduction erosion during peaks of compressional deformation.
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Geology and Genesis of Major Copper Deposits and Districts of the World: A Tribute to Richard H. Sillitoe
It has been recognized for the past century that copper deposits, in common with those of many other metals, are heterogeneously concentrated in Earth’s upper crust, resulting in areally restricted copper provinces that were generated during several discrete metallogenic epochs over time intervals of up to several hundred million years. Various segments of circum-Pacific magmatic arcs, for example, have total contained copper contents that differ by two orders of magnitude. Each metallogenic epoch introduced its own deposit type(s), of which porphyry copper (and related skarn), followed by sediment-hosted stratiform copper and then iron oxide copper-gold (IOCG), are globally preeminent. Nonetheless, genesis of the copper provinces remains somewhat enigmatic and a topic of ongoing debate.
A variety of deposit-scale geometric and geologic features and factors strongly influence the size and/or grade of porphyry copper, sediment-hosted stratiform copper, and/or IOCG deposits. For example, development of major porphyry copper deposits/districts is favored by the presence of clustered alteration-mineralization centers, mafic or massive carbonate host rocks, voluminous magmatic-hydrothermal breccias, low sulfidation-state core zones conducive to copper deposition as bornite ± digenite, hypogene and supergene sulfide enrichment, and mineralized skarn formation, coupled with lack of serious dilution by late, low-grade porphyry intrusions and breccias. Furthermore, the copper endowment of all deposit types undoubtedly benefits from optimization of the ore-forming processes involved.
Tectonic setting also plays a fundamental role in copper metallogeny. Contractional tectonomagmatic belts, created by flat-slab subduction or, less commonly, arc-continent collision and characterized by crustal thickening and high rates of uplift and exhumation, appear to host most large, high-grade hypogene porphyry copper deposits. Such mature arc crust also undergoes mafic magma input during porphyry copper formation. The premier sediment-hosted stratiform copper provinces were formed in cratonic or hinterland extensional sedimentary basins that subsequently underwent tectonic inversion. The IOCG deposits were generated in association with extension/transtension and felsic intrusions, the latter apparently triggered by deep-seated mafic magmas in either intracratonic or subduction settings. The radically different exhumation rates characteristic of these various tectonic settings account well for the secular distribution of copper deposit types, in particular the youthfulness of most porphyry relative to sediment-hosted stratiform and IOCG deposits. Notwithstanding the importance of these deposit-scale geologic, regional tectonic, and erosion-rate criteria for effective copper deposit formation and preservation, they seem inadequate to explain the localization of premier copper provinces, such as the central Andes, southwestern North America, and Central African Copperbelt, in which different deposit types were generated during several discrete epochs. By the same token, the paucity of copper mineralization in some apparently similar geologic settings elsewhere also remains unexplained.
It is proposed here that major copper provinces occur where restricted segments of the lithosphere were predisposed to upper-crustal copper concentration throughout long intervals of Earth history. This predisposition was most likely gained during oxidation and copper introduction by subduction-derived fluids, containing metals and volatiles extracted from hydrated basalts and sediments in downgoing slabs. As a result, superjacent lithospheric mantle and lowermost crust were metasomatized as well as gaining cupriferous sulfide-bearing cumulates during magmatic differentiation—processes that rendered them fertile for tapping during subsequent subduction-or, uncommonly, intraplate extension-related magmatic events to generate porphyry copper and IOCG districts or belts. The fertile lithosphere beneath some accretionary orogens became incorporated during earlier collisional events, commonly during Precambrian times. Relatively oxidized crustal profiles—as opposed to those dominated by reduced, sedimentary material—are also required for effective formation of all major copper deposits. Large sedimentary basins underlain by or adjoining oxidized and potentially copper-anomalous crust and filled initially by immature redbed strata containing magmatic arc-derived detritus provide optimal sites for large-scale, sediment-hosted stratiform copper mineralization. Translithospheric fault zones, acting as giant plumbing systems, commonly played a key role in localizing all types of major copper deposits, districts, and belts. These proposals address the long-debated concept of metal inheritance in terms of the fundamental role played by subduction-metasomatized mantle lithosphere and lowermost crust in global copper metallogeny.