Cu isotope measurements of minerals from American southwest porphyry Cu deposits reveal a positive relationship with the grade of Cu and display spatial patterns. We measured the Cu isotope composition of 87 minerals contained within veins from drill core and hand specimen samples from three deposits (the Silver Bell, Ray, and Morenci mines). The overall range of Cu isotope ratios varies from −13.5 to +8.3 per mil.
The deposits possess three different Cu reservoirs in which each has unique Cu isotope signatures, where δ65Cu for leach cap minerals < hypogene minerals < supergene enrichment minerals. The pattern exists in all three deposits and resulted from oxidative weathering of Cu at surface and reprecipitation of Cu at depth. A Rayleigh distillation model mimics the Cu isotope patterns found in the leach cap and quantifies the degree of leaching. A comparison of the isotopic composition of the three reservoirs among the three deposits reveals distinct differences—the Silver Bell mine possesses leach cap minerals that are more depleted in 65Cu and enrichment minerals that are more enriched in 65Cu than both the Morenci and Ray mines. A possible explanation for the difference among the deposits could indicate that the Silver Bell deposit experienced a greater degree of leaching than the Ray and Morenci deposits. The comparative analysis of the Cu isotope data reveals the exploration potential of using Cu isotope fractionation in the supergene environments.