Aguablanca (southwest Spain) is the first economic Ni-Cu-(PGE) deposit found in southern Europe. Two features make it an unusual example of magmatic sulfide ore: it is related to the development of an Andean-type continental magmatic arc, and it is hosted by a subvertical magmatic breccia. The structural style and the geodynamic context of the deposit contrast with most plutonic Ni-Cu-PGE deposits elsewhere, which occur at specific levels of layered mafic intrusions in rift environments.
The Ni-Cu deposit is hosted by the Aguablanca intrusion, a mafic body composed of gabbronorite and minor quartz-diorite, gabbro, and norite. Sulfides are concentrated in a gabbronorite matrix along a subvertical (dip of 70°–80° N), funnel-like magmatic breccia that contains barren or slightly mineralized ultramafic-mafic cumulate fragments. Modal compositions of the fragments reflect a wide variety of rock types, including peridotite (hornblende-rich werhlite, dunite, and hornblende-rich harzburgite), pyroxenite (ortho- and clinopyroxenite), gabbro (gabbro, gabbronorite, and hornblende gabbro), and anorthosite. The primary silicate assemblage includes olivine (Fo91–Fo79), orthopyroxene (Mg no. 0.85–0.73), clinopyroxene (Mg no. 0.93–0.62), plagioclase (An99–An38), amphibole (Mg no. 0.87–0.68) and phlogopite (Mg no. 0.89–0.64). The wide range of rock types and the Fe-enrichment trends in the primary ferromagnesian silicates suggest magmatic differentiation processes from the parent melts, with the fragments representing different stages of cumulate formation.
The ore-bearing breccia contains both semimassive and disseminated sulfides in the gabbronorite matrix. Textures vary between meso- and orthocumulate, and the rock-forming magmatic silicates are orthopyroxene (Mg no. 0.83–0.74), clinopyroxene (Mg no. 0.89–0.78), plagioclase (An50-An77), and intercumulus amphibole (Mg no. 0.86–0.70), phlogopite (0.84–0.69) and minor quartz. The gabbronorite in the matrix of the breccia is petrographically and chemically very similar to that of the unmineralized parts of the main Aguablanca intrusion and exhibits a similar differentiation trend, suggesting that the matrix of the ore-bearing breccia and the unmineralized rocks belong to a same magmatic suite. The local presence of mafic-ultramafic fragments in the barren Aguablanca intrusion supports this suggestion.
The presence of highly Ni depleted olivine, whole-rock Cu/Zr ratios below 1, and the local occurrence of disseminations of magmatic sulfides in the peridotite fragments point to sulfide segregation before and/or during the formation of the peridotite cumulates. Mantle-normalized incompatible trace element patterns of the fragments along with published sulfur isotope data are consistent with crustal contamination, suggesting that addition of crustal sulfur from pyrite-bearing black slates led to sulfide saturation. These results support a model in which sulfides segregated and settled during the differentiation of an unexposed mafic-ultramafic complex, now sampled as fragments in the breccia, whereas the overlying silicate magma, most probably fed by successive fresh magma injections, underwent fractional crystallization, giving rise to this cumulate sequence. The emplacement of the ore breccia took place at temperatures above the (monosulfide solid solution (mss) solidus but below the olivine and pyroxene solidus, likely owing to the explosive injection of a new pulse of magma into the chamber, which mingled with the sulfide liquid and disrupted the overlying cumulate sequence. As a consequence, fragments reached their current position in the breccia, injected along with the sulfide and the silicate melts, which subsequently formed the sulfide-rich gabbronorite.