Abstract

The Pebble Cu-Au-Mo deposit in southwestern Alaska, containing the largest gold resource of any known porphyry in the world, developed in a tectonic setting significantly different from that of the present-day. It is one of a series of metalliferous middle Cretaceous porphyritic granodiorite, quartz monzonite, and diorite bodies, evolved from lower crust and metasomatized lithospheric mantle melts, which formed along much of the length of the North American craton suture with the Peninsular-Alexander-Wrangellia arc. The porphyry deposits were emplaced within the northernmost two of a series of ca. 130 to 80 Ma flysch basins that define the suture, as well as into arc rocks immediately seaward of the two basins. Deposits include the ca. 100 to 90 Ma Pebble, Neacola, and other porphyry prospects along the Kahiltna basin-Peninsula terrane boundary, and the ca. 115 to 105 Ma Baultoff, Carl Creek, Horsfeld, Orange Hill, Bond Creek, and Chisna porphyries along the Nutzotin basin-Wrangellia terrane boundary.

The porphyry deposits probably formed along the craton margin more than 1,000 km to the south of their present latitude. Palinspastic reconstructions of plate kinematics from this period are particularly difficult because magmatism overlaps the 119 to 83 Ma Cretaceous Normal Superchron, a period when sea-floor magnetic data are lacking. Our favored scenario is that ore formation broadly overlaps the cessation of sedimentation and contraction and the transition to a transpressional continental margin regime, such that the remnant ocean basins were converted to strike-slip basins. The basins and outboard Peninsular-Alexander-Wrangellia composite superterrane, which are all located seaward of the deep crustal Denali-Farewell fault system, were subjected to northerly dextral transpression for as long as perhaps 50 m.y., beginning at ca. 95 ± 10 Ma. The onset of this transpression was marked by development of the mineralized bodies along fault segments on the seaward side of the basins.

Geochemical and radiogenic isotopic data for igneous rocks associated with the Pebble porphyry deposit suggest continuous melt derivation from enriched lithosphere of a recently metasomatized mantle. These geochemical characteristics, coupled with the arc-continent-related collisional setting, suggest that lithospheric thickening and postcollisional lithospheric melting are the most likely cause of the ore-related magmatism. Subsequent to translation of the Alaskan margin terranes and early Tertiary oroclinal bending of Alaska, the northernmost Kahiltna basin and the Pebble deposit, as well as the other porphyry systems, reached their present-day locations along southern Alaska.

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