The iron oxide copper-gold (IOCG) group of deposits, initially defined following discovery of the giant Olympic Dam Cu-U-Au deposit, has progressively become too-embracing when associated deposits and potential end members or analogs are included. The broader group includes several low Ti iron oxide-associated deposits that include iron oxide (P-rich), iron oxide (F- and REE-rich), Fe or Cu-Au skarn, high-grade iron oxide-hosted Au ± Cu, carbonatite-hosted (Cu-, REE-, and F-rich), and IOCG sensu stricto deposits. Consideration of this broad group as a whole obscures the critical features of the IOCG sensu stricto deposits, such as their temporal distribution and tectonic environment, thus leading to difficulties in developing a robust exploration model.

The IOCG sensu stricto deposits are magmatic-hydrothermal deposits that contain economic Cu and Au grades, are structurally controlled, commonly contain significant volumes of breccia, are commonly associated with presulfide sodic or sodic-calcic alteration, have alteration and/or brecciation zones on a large, commonly regional, scale relative to economic mineralization, have abundant low Ti iron oxides and/or iron silicates intimately associated with, but generally paragenetically older than, Fe-Cu sulfides, have LREE enrichment and low S sulfides (lack of abundant pyrite), lack widespread quartz veins or silicification, and show a clear temporal, but not close spatial, relationship to major magmatic intrusions. These intrusions, where identified, are commonly alkaline to subalkaline, mixed mafic (even ultramafic) to felsic in composition, with evidence for mantle derivation of at least the mafic end members of the suite. The giant size of many of the deposits and surrounding alteration zones, the highly saline ore fluids, and the available stable and radiogenic isotope data indicate release of deep, volatile-rich magmatic fluids through devolatization of causative, mantle-derived magmas and variable degrees of mixing of these magmatic fluids with other crustal fluids along regional-scale fluid flow paths.

Precambrian deposits are the dominant members of the IOCG group in terms of both copper and gold resources. The 12 IOCG deposits with >100 tonnes (t) resources are located in intracratonic settings within about 100 km of the margins of Archean or Paleoproterozoic cratons or other lithospheric boundaries, and formed 100 to 200 m.y. after supercontinent assembly. Their tectonic setting at formation was most likely anorogenic, with magmatism and associated hydrothermal activity driven by mantle underplating and/or plumes. Limited amounts of partial melting of volatile-rich and possibly metal-enriched metasomatized early Precambrian subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM), fertilized during earlier subduction, probably produced basic to ultrabasic magmas that melted overlying continental crust and mixed with resultant felsic melts, with devolatilization and some penecontemporaneous incorporation of other lower to middle crustal fluids to produce the IOCG deposits. Preservation of near-surface deposits, such as Olympic Dam, is probably due to their formation above buoyant and refractory SCLM, which resisted delamination and associated uplift.

Most Precambrian iron oxide (P-rich) or magnetite-apatite (Kiruna-type) deposits have a different temporal distribution, apparently forming in convergent margin settings prior to or following supercontinent assembly. It is only in the Phanerozoic that IOCG and magnetite-apatite deposits are roughly penecontemporaneous in convergent margin settings. The Phanerozoic IOCG deposits, such as Candelaria, Chile, occur in anomalous extensional to transtensional zones in the Coastal Cordillera, which are also the sites of mantle-derived mafic to felsic intrusions that are anomalous in an Andean context. This implies that special conditions, possibly detached slabs of metasomatized SCLM, may be required in convergent margin settings to generate world-class IOCG deposits.

It is likely that formation of giant IOCG deposits was mainly a Precambrian phenomenon related to the extensive mantle underplating that impacted on buoyant metasomatized SCLM. Generally smaller and rarer Phanerozoic IOCG deposits formed in tectonic settings where conditions similar to those in the Precambrian were replicated.

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