Northern Nevada contains ∼360 igneous intrusions subequally distributed among three age groups: middle Tertiary, Cretaceous, and Jurassic. These intrusions are dominantly granodiorite and monzogranite, although some are more mafic. Major-oxide and trace-element compositions of intrusion age groups are remarkably similar, forming compositional arrays that are continuous, overlapping, and essentially indistinguishable. Within each age group, compositional diversity is controlled by a combination of fractional crystallization and two-component mixing. Mafic intrusions represent mixing of mantle-derived magma and assimilated continental crust, whereas intermediate to felsic intrusions evolved by fractional crystallization. Several petrologic parameters suggest that the northern Nevada intrusion age groups formed in a variety of subduction-related, magmatic arc settings: Jurassic intrusions were likely formed during backarc, slab-window magmatism related to breakoff of the Mezcalera plate; Cretaceous magmatism was related to rapid, shallow subduction of the Farallon plate and consequent inboard migration of arc magmatism; and Tertiary magmatism initially swept southward into northern Nevada in response to foundering of the Farallon plate and was followed by voluminous Miocene bimodal magmatism associated with backarc continental rifting.
Nearly 3000 hydrothermal mineral deposits (many only small uneconomic occurrences), of diverse size and type, are spatially and (or) genetically associated with northern Nevada intrusions; significantly, the largest and most important deposits are aligned along prominent mineral-deposit trends. Because northern Nevada is a globally significant metallogenic province, determining whether age, modal composition, and geochemical features of associated intrusive rocks discriminate productive intrusions is important. Mineral-deposit types, including W vein and skarn, polymetallic vein, distal disseminated Au-Ag, porphyry Cu-Mo-W-Au, and epithermal Ag-Au deposits, all spatially and genetically associated with intrusions and known to involve magmatic inputs, are emphasized in this analysis. In addition, although evidence for a direct magmatic input, other than heat, is scarce for Carlin-type gold deposit formation, this deposit type was included because of its economic significance. Consequently, intrusions along mineral-deposit trends, in particular those associated with the largest and economically most significant mineral deposits, were a focus of the investigation.
Importantly, modal composition, age, and geochemical characteristics of intrusions associated with large mineral deposits along the trends, are indistinguishable from non-mineralized intrusions in northern Nevada and thus do not identify intrusions associated with significant deposits. Moreover, intrusion age and composition show little correlation with mineral-deposit type, abundance, and size. Given the lack of diagnostic characteristics for intrusions associated with deposits, it is uncertain whether age, modal composition, and geochemical data can identify intrusions associated with mineral deposits. These findings suggest that associations between northern Nevada intrusions and mineral deposits reflect superimposition of many geologic factors, none of which was solely responsible for mineral-deposit formation. These factors might include intrusion size, efficiency of fluid and metal extraction from magma, prevailing redox and sulfidation conditions, or derivation of metals and ligands from host rocks and groundwater. The abundance and diversity of mineral deposits in northern Nevada may partly reflect geochemical inheritance, for example, along the mineral trends rather than the influence of petrologically unique magma or associated fluids.