The late Miocene Farallón Negro volcanics, comprising basaltic to rhyodacitic volcano-sedimentary rocks, host the Bajo de la Alumbrera porphyry copper-gold deposit in northwest Argentina. Early studies of the geology of the district have underpinned the general model for porphyry ore deposits where hydrothermal alteration and mineralization develop in and around porphyritic intrusions emplaced at shallow depths (2.5–3.5 km) into stratovolcanic assemblages. The Farallón Negro succession is dominated by thick sequences of volcano-sedimentary breccias, with lavas forming a minor component volumetrically. These volcaniclastic rocks conformably overlie crystalline basement-derived sedimentary rocks deposited in a developing foreland basin southeast of the Puna-Altiplano plateau. Within the Farallón Negro volcanics, volcanogenic accumulations evolved from early mafic to intermediate and silicic compositions. The younger and more silicic rocks are demonstrably coeval and comagmatic with the earliest group of mineralized porphyritic intrusions at Bajo de la Alumbrera.
Our analysis of the volcanic stratigraphy and facies architecture of the Farallón Negro volcanics indicates that volcanic eruptions evolved from effusive to mixed effusive and explosive styles, as magma compositions changed to more intermediate and silicic compositions. An early phase of mafic to intermediate volcanism was characterized by small synsedimentary intrusions with peperitic contacts, and lesser lava units scattered widely throughout the district, and interbedded with thick and extensive successions of coarse-grained sedimentary breccias. These sedimentary breccias formed from numerous debris- and hyperconcentrated flow events. A later phase of silicic volcanism included both effusive eruptions, forming several areally restricted lavas, and explosive eruptions, producing more widely dispersed (up to 5 km) tuff units, some up to 30-m thickness in proximal sections. Four key features of the volcanic stratigraphy suggest that the Farallon Negro volcanics need not simply record the construction of a large steep-sided polygenetic stratovolcano: (1) sheetlike, laterally continuous debris-flow and other coarse-grained sedimentary deposits are dominant, particularly in the lower sections; (2) mafic-intermediate composition lavas are volumetrically minor; (3) peperites are present throughout the sequence; and (4) fine-grained lacustrine sandstone-siltstone sequences occur in areas previously thought to be proximal to the summit region of the stratovolcano. Instead, the nature, distribution, and geometry of volcanic and volcaniclastic facies suggest that volcanism occurred as a relatively low relief, multiple-vent volcanic complex at the eastern edge of a broad, >200-km-wide late Miocene volcanic belt and on an active foreland sedimentary basin to the Puna-Altiplano. Volcanism that occurred synchronously with the earliest stages of porphyry-related mineralization at Bajo de la Alumbrera apparently developed in an alluvial to ring plain setting that was distal to larger volcanic edifices.