The Pliocene El Dorado low-sulfidation epithermal Au-Ag vein system, located within an 84-km2 district in north-central El Salvador, is hosted by volcanic rocks formed along the Caribbean plate margin in response to the subduction of the Cocos plate during the Tertiary. The principal volcanic host rocks to epithermal veins, and effective basement in the district, consist of a >400-m-thick sequence of basaltic to andesitic lava flows and volcanogenic sedimentary rocks. Locally, porphyritic basaltic to andesitic domes and dikes intruded this sequence during the late Miocene (10.7 ± 1.9 Ma). The mineralized volcanic basement rocks, outcropping mainly in north and central El Dorado, represent different parts of a complex volcanic sequence composed of multiple superimposed volcanic centers.

Vein formation in the district occurred in the Pliocene between 4.7 ± 0.2 Ma and 4.06 ± 0.29 Ma, based on K-Ar and 40Ar-39Ar plateau ages on vein adularia. Vein formation overlapped with Pliocene felsic volcanism (3.94 ± 0.29 Ma to 3.36 ± 0.49 Ma), based on field relationships and 40Ar-39Ar geochronology. Pliocene felsic volcanic rock sequences crop out widely in southern El Dorado at lower elevations relative to central and northern El Dorado. The felsic rocks have sinters intercalated with pyroclastic and sedimentary rocks at the base of the sequence that define the paleosurface of the epithermal vein system, at least in this part of the district. The depth of erosion in central and northern El Dorado, the primary Au-Ag resource, is below the paleosurface, as only the low sulfidation–style epithermal veins are present. Field relationships and geochronology suggest that the onset of extensive felsic volcanism marks the waning stage of hydrothermal activity associated with vein formation and mineralization.

From north to south, the El Dorado district represents an oblique cross section through the volcanic and epithermal vein system formed during east-west extension. Northern and central El Dorado, dominated by mineralized mafic to intermediate volcanic basement rocks, represent the deeper parts of the volcanic and hydrothermal system. Southern El Dorado is the shallow level of the volcanic field and epithermal vein system, preserving the surface and shallow subsurface environments, including the sinters and contemporaneous to postmineral felsic volcanic rocks. Although we cannot preclude that the distribution of volcanic rocks represents lateral facies changes in a Pliocene felsic dome field or that the variations in depth within the low-sulfidation epithermal system represent simply lateral flow driven by topography in the geothermal system, the preponderance of evidence suggests that the oblique section is principally due to postmineral deformation associated with formation of large Pliocene and Pleistocene Rio Titihuappa basin lying to the immediate south.

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