Abstract

The Bingham Canyon porphyry copper-gold-molybdenum deposit is one of the largest and highest-grade porphyry orebodies in the world. This study focused on the northwest side of the deposit where quartz mon-zonite porphyry (QMP), the first and largest porphyry intrusion, hosts the bulk of the high-grade copper-gold ore (>1.0% Cu, >1.0 ppm Au). The north-northeast–trending, high-grade zone had pre-mining dimensions of 1,500 m strike, >300 m vertical, and 500 m width and contained more than 500 million tonnes (Mt) of ore associated with potassic alteration and abundant quartz veins. The lack of superimposed sericitic alteration yielded ideal exposures in which to study the early, high-temperature stages of ore formation, a style of mineralization that in many porphyry deposits represents the major period of copper introduction.

We mapped multiple porphyry dikes in the sequence: (1) QMP, (2) latite porphyry (LP), (3) biotite porphyry (BP), (4) quartz latite porphyry breccia (QLPbx), and (5) quartz latite porphyry (QLP). Porphyry dikes, faults, and quartz veins are steeply dipping and have two dominant orientations; north-northeast– and northwest-striking. Dikes have a north-northeast strike but they thicken and develop northwest-trending apophyses and host high-grade copper-gold zones at intersections with northwest-faults, indicating that magmatic-hydrothermal fluids were focused by these structural intersections.

Each porphyry intrusion was accompanied by a similar sequence of veins, potassic alteration, and sulfides. Biotite veinlets were followed by fractures with early dark micaceous (EDM) halos of sericite, K-feldspar, biotite, andalusite, and local corundum containing disseminated bornite-chalcopyrite-gold. EDM halos are cut by multiple generations of A-quartz veins representing the main Cu-Au ore-forming event. Postdating all intrusions are quartz-molybdenite veins followed by quartz-sericite-pyrite veins.

Cathodoluminescence (CL) petrography identified distinct A-quartz veinlets consisting of dark-luminescing quartz filling fractures and dissolution vugs in earlier A-quartz veins and adjacent porphyry wall rock. These veinlets contain abundant bornite and chalcopyrite and minor K-feldspar and are closely linked in time to the introduction of the bulk of the copper and gold. Although a similar sequence of veins was repeated on emplacement of all porphyry intrusions, the vein density and intensity of potassic alteration declined with time. The youngest porphyry, QLP, is mostly weakly mineralized and locally unaltered. These observations indicate that magmatic-hydrothermal fluids underwent a similar physiochemical evolution during and immediately following emplacement of each of several porphyry dikes. The relationship between EDM veins and A-quartz veins requires that the flux of magmatic fluid from the magma chamber occurred in an episodic manner as opposed to a continuous discharge.

Vein truncation relationships coupled with abrupt changes in copper-gold grades, sulfide ratios, and potassic alteration intensity at porphyry intrusive contacts indicate that the mass of introduced copper and gold decreased significantly during successive porphyry intrusive-hydrothermal cycles, presumably due to depletion of metals and volatiles in the underlying magma chamber.

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