The history of hypabyssal intrusion and hydrothermal activity in the northeastern and central parts of the be-hemothian (sensu Clark, 1993) Río Blanco-Los Bronces porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit is clarified on the basis of integrated U-Pb and 40Ar/39Ar geochronology. Isotope dilution thermal ion mass spectrometry (ID-TIMS) U-Pb dates for zircon separates and ID-TIMS and sensitive high resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP) dates for single zircon grains in pre-, syn- and late-mineralization volcanic and intrusive host rocks in the Río Blanco, Don Luis, and Sur-Sur mining sectors provide a temporal framework for interpretation of incremental-heating and spot-fusion 40Ar/39Ar dates for, respectively, magmatic biotite and hydrothermal biotite, muscovite, and orthoclase.
The ore deposit is hosted in part by 16.77 ± 0.25 to 17.20 ± 0.05 (2σ) Ma andesitic volcanic strata of the Farellones Formation, but the major host rocks are units of the San Francisco batholith, including the 11.96 ± 0.40 Ma Río Blanco granodiorite (mine terminology), the 8.40 ± 0.23 Ma Cascada granodiorite, and the 8.16 ± 0.45 Ma diorite. Hypabyssal dacitic intrusions (late porphyries) emplaced into the batholith yield 206Pb/238U ID-TIMS dates ranging from 6.32 ± 0.09 Ma (quartz monzonite porphyry), through 5.84 ± 0.03 Ma (feldspar porphyry) to 5.23 ± 0.07 Ma (Don Luis porphyry). The late-mineralization Río Blanco dacite plug yields a SHRIMP zircon age of 4.92 ± 0.09 Ma.
The 40Ar/39Ar plateau ages for phenocrystic biotites in quartz monzonite porphyry, feldspar porphyry, and Don Luis porphyry, as well as the preore diorite, range only from 5.12 ± 0.07 to 4.57 ± 0.06 Ma. All are significantly younger than the corresponding zircons and exhibit no correlation with intrusive sequence. The 40Ar/39Ar ages for hydrothermal biotite and orthoclase veins within the San Francisco batholith units fall in a narrow interval from 5.32 ± 0.27 to 4.59 ± 0.11 Ma. Hydrothermal sericites (muscovite), one associated with chalcopyrite, yielded spot-fusion ages of 4.40 ± 0.15 Ma (Río Blanco granodiorite hosted) and 4.37 ± 0.06 Ma (Don Luis porphyry hosted). Comparison with the ID-TIMS and SHRIMP zircon ages indicates that most of the 40Ar/39Ar ages, even 95 percent plateaus, do not record initial magmatic cooling or hydrothermal alteration-mineralization events, evidence for quasipervasive reheating to at least 300°C by successive intrusions. Published Re-Os ages for two molybdenite samples range from 5.4 to 6.3 Ma and overlap extensively with the zircon U-Pb ages for the late porphyries. They imply that Cu-Mo mineralization overlapped temporally with the emplacement of, at least, quartz monzonite porphyry and feldspar porphyry units of the late porphyry suite and was, therefore, contemporaneous with the rise of dacitic melts to subvolcanic levels. Hydrothermal activity is inferred to have continued until 4.37 ± 0.06 Ma, following intrusion of the Don Luis porphyry and the early stages of emplacement of the Río Blanco dacite plug complex. Hypogene Cu-Mo mineralization therefore probably persisted for 2 m.y. The geochronologic data do not resolve whether ore formation was continuous or episodic, but the observed crosscutting relationships between intensely altered and mineralized country rocks and less altered and mineralized late porphyry bodies support a model in which the ascent of metal-rich brines from an unexposed zone of the parental magma chamber was periodically stimulated by magma perturbation and hypabyssal intrusion.