The major and trace element compositions of individual fluid inclusions from a range of magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits were analyzed by laser-ablation inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, to explore the behavior of ore-forming components during fluid phase separation (“boiling”) in high-temperature saline fluid systems. Data from 13 samples showing unambiguous evidence for coeval trapping of a liquid brine and a coexisting vapor phase identify two groups of elements with drastically different geochemical behavior. Na, K, Fe, Mn, Zn, Rb, Cs, Ag, Sn, Pb, and Tl preferentially partition into the brine (probably as Cl complexes), whereas Cu, As, Au (probably as HS complexes), and B selectively partition into the vapor. Fluid phase separation is probably a major, previously underestimated process in the chemical differentiation that contributes to the extreme range of selective element enrichments in magmatic-hydrothermal systems, from deep plutons through porphyry-style and greisen deposits to epithermal mineralization and volcanic fumaroles.

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