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Characterization and Reconstruction of Multiple Copper-Bearing Hydrothermal Systems in the Tea Cup Porphyry System, Pinal County, Arizona

By
Phillip A. Nickerson
Phillip A. Nickerson
Institute for Mineral Resources, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, 1040 East Fourth Street, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0077
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Mark D. Barton
Mark D. Barton
Institute for Mineral Resources, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, 1040 East Fourth Street, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0077
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Eric Seedorff
Eric Seedorff
Institute for Mineral Resources, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, 1040 East Fourth Street, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0077
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Published:
January 01, 2010

Abstract

This study exploits a cross-sectional view of the Laramide magmatic arc in the northern Tortilla Mountains, central Arizona, that was created by tilting during severe Tertiary extension of the Basin and Range province. Building upon earlier work, we combine the results of geologic mapping of rock types, structures, and hydrothermal alteration styles, with a palinspastic reconstruction, to provide a system-wide understanding of the evolution of the composite magmatic and hydrothermal Tea Cup porphyry system.

Geologic mapping revealed the presence of at least three, and possibly four, mineralizing hydrothermal systems in the study area that are associated with widespread potassic, sericitic, greisen, sodic (-calcic), and propylitic alteration. The alteration envelops both porphyry copper and porphyry molybdenum (-copper) mineralization. Two areas flanking compositionally distinct units of the composite Tea Cup pluton are characterized by intense potassic and sericitic alteration. Intense alteration and mineralization akin to iron oxide-copper-gold systems was recognized in several areas. The U-Pb dating of zircons from porphyry dikes suggests that hydrothermal activity in the study area was short lived (~73–72 Ma). Subsequently, between ~25 and 15 Ma, the Tea Cup porphyry system was tilted ~90° to the east and extended by >200 percent due to movement on five superimposed sets of nearly planar normal faults. Each fault set was initiated with dips of ~60° to 70°, but modern dips range from 70° to 15° overturned from the youngest to the oldest set. Tertiary normal faulting resulted in the exposure of pieces of the porphyry system from paleodepths of >10 km.

Palinspastic reconstruction of a ~30-km-long cross section reveals that the Tea Cup pluton formed by sequential intrusion of at least four compositionally distinct units. Each major unit generated its own hydrothermal system. The most intense alteration in each hydrothermal system formed above the cupolas of each major phase of the pluton. Potassic alteration dominates the core of each system, whereas feldspar-destructive acid alteration overlaps with the potassic alteration but also extends to higher levels within each system. Deep sodic (-calcic) alteration overlain by iron oxide-rich chlorite-sericite-pyrite alteration flanks these central systems and generally extends 2 to 4 km away from the center of the hydrothermal systems. Greisen-style alteration was recognized 1 to 2 km beneath the potassic alteration in one porphyry copper system but overlaps and extends above the exposed porphyry molybdenum (-copper) system. Propylitic alteration occurs in a distal position and surrounds the other alteration styles. The alteration mapping, combined with the palinspastic reconstruction, revealed two covered exploration targets centered on intense potassic alteration, demonstrating that palinspastic reconstruction represents a powerful exploration technique in a district with more than 100 years of exploration history.

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Special Publications of the Society of Economic Geologists

The Challenge of Finding New Mineral Resources: Global Metallogeny, Innovative Exploration, and New Discoveries

Richard J. Goldfarb
Richard J. Goldfarb
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Erin E. Marsh
Erin E. Marsh
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Thomas Monecke
Thomas Monecke
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Society of Economic Geologists
Volume
15 (1)
ISBN electronic:
9781629490397
Publication date:
January 01, 2010

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