The Early to Middle Triassic Erdenet porphyry Cu-Mo deposit, in northern Mongolia, developed in a continent-continent arc collision zone, within the Central Asian orogenic belt. The porphyry system is related to multiple intrusions of crystal-crowded biotite granodiorite porphyry, which formed a composite stock about 900 m in diameter, with multiple porphyritic microgranodiorite dikes. Wall rocks are Late Permian to Early Triassic, medium-grained granodiorite, with similar whole-rock geochemistry, mineralogy, and composition to the granodiorite porphyry. Whole-rock analysis of the granodiorite porphyry and wall rocks shows that these rocks cannot be discriminated, but both have depleted middle heavy rare earth elements and Y, typical of fertile porphyry magmatic suites.
At the current pit level (1,250 m elev), early porphyry-style quartz veins (A and B type) are locally infilled by pyrite-chalcopyrite, with subordinate bornite, but most of the chalcopyrite occurs in D veins that constitute more than 50% of the Cu grade (~0.5 wt % Cu). The 0.3 wt % Cu shell resembles a molar tooth, enveloping the granodiorite porphyry, with deeper roots extending down the wal-rock contacts. Molybdenite occurs in monomineralic veins, and in finely laminated to massive quartz-molybdenite veins.
The most important alteration is quartz-muscovite, which occurs as relatively coarse (100–500 µm) alteration selvages (1–5 cm) that envelop D veins. The D veins cut illite ± kaolinite-smectite (or intermediate argillic) alteration. Intermediate argillic alteration, together with abundant pink anhydrite (commonly hydrated to gypsum), extends from at least 1,300- to 900-m elevation in the deepest drill holes, and has overprinted early potassic alteration, or relatively unaltered red granodiorite. Meter-wide zones of kaolinite cut the anhydrite-gypsum at all levels. There is an abrupt transition outward from the intermediate argillic alteration to chlorite-epidote (propylitic) alteration, at 50 to 200 m from the granodiorite porphyry contact, although D veins (and chalcopyrite) extend outward to the propylitic zone.
The Erdenet porphyry system, was overprinted by advanced argillic alteration, which outcrops 2 km northwest of the pit, and forms a lithocap that extends over 10 × 2.5 km. It is characterized by residual quartz, andalusite, Na-Ca and K-alunite, diaspore, pyrophyllite, zunyite, topaz, dickite, and kaolinite. The upper part of the porphyry Cu-Mo deposit (removed by mining), comprised a bornite-chalcocite enriched zone up to 300 m thick with an average grade of 0.7 wt % Cu and up to 5 wt % Cu locally. Based on hypogene bornite-chalcocite mineral textures and high-sulfidation state mineralogy, the enriched zone is inferred to be of hypogene origin, but modified by supergene processes. Consequently, it may be related to formation of the lithocap.
Previous Re-Os dates of 240.4 and 240.7 ± 0.8 Ma for molybdenite in quartz veins are comparable to new 40Ar/39Ar dates of 239.7 ± 1.6 and 240 ± 2 Ma for muscovite that envelops D veins. One 40Ar/39Ar date on K-alunite from the lithocap of 223.5 ± 1.9 Ma suggests that it may be about 16 m.y. younger than Erdenet, but this result needs to be verified by further dating.