Paired belts of alkalic and calc-alkalic porphyry deposits are genetically linked to early Mesozoic volcanic arcs preserved as the Quesnel and Stikine terranes in western Canada. These parallel arc terranes extend for 2,000 km along the axis of the Canadian Cordillera. They are joined at their northern ends, but are otherwise separated by relics of Tethyan ocean basin and oceanic arc rocks collectively referred to as the Cache Creek terrane.
Porphyry Cu ± Au-Mo-Ag deposits are concentrated within the Stikine-Quesnel arc terranes, with most of their economic metal endowment a consequence of a 15-m.y. mineralizing epoch. A particularly prolific period within the mineralizing epoch is a 6-m.y. pulse centered on 205 Ma when more than 90% of the known copper endowment was acquired. Distinct trends of Cu-Au ± Ag-Mo mineralization within both arc terranes coincide in time and space with events that are attributed to effects of slab subduction.
Stratigraphy within both Stikine and Quesnel arc terranes is equivalent, with greater variation along the arcs than between them. Magmatism within both arcs began in the Late Devonian, following initiation of subduction near eastern Panthalassa and formation of the back-arc Slide Mountain ocean basin margin adjacent to Laurentia. Both terranes record further arc development in the lower Carboniferous and cessation in the Permian. Between the Late Permian and Middle Triassic, both arcs foundered, and then recorded a cryptic Early Triassic deformational event, coincident with closing of the Slide Mountain ocean. Permo-Triassic subduction and arc magmatism are recorded in the Sitlika-Kutcho-Venables arc, but this occurred far to the west, within the Tethyan realm. Early in the Late Triassic (early Carnian), both the Stikine and Quesnel arcs reignited. Later, near the end of the Triassic (late Norian), the arcs were uplifted, picrites were erupted locally, and magmatism was dominantly strongly alkaline. Monzonitic plutons hosting alkalic Cu porphyry deposits were emplaced along the arcs, followed by a widespread erosional hiatus that extends throughout much of the latest Triassic (Rhaetian).
Late Triassic events culminating in generation of Cu porphyry deposits are attributed to a model wherein delivery of the Permo-Triassic Sitlika-Kutcho-Venables arc to the Stikine-Quesnel arc trench led to stalled subduction and arc-parallel tearing of the slab. Ingress of hot subslab mantle into the tear resulted in high-degree partial melts, as recorded by picrite within the arc circa 210 Ma. Widening of the tear and decay of the initial thermal spike raised temperatures across broad regions of the metasomatized mantle wedge, with low-degree partial melts generated from the most hydrated, metal-enriched portions circa 203 Ma. These melts produced the well-defined belt of alkalic Cu-Au-Ag porphyries. Parts of the slab tear may have nucleated near the forearc to generate Mo-rich Cu porphyries, such as the Gibraltar deposit, which partly cuts the accreted Cache Creek terrane. Metal-rich hydrous melts may have traveled along preexisting intrusive pathways to invade batholithic bodies along the arc axis, such as at Highland Valley, where 204 Ma mineralization is hosted within a larger ~210 Ma plutonic complex. Migration of the locus of mineralized porphyry intrusions toward the backarc may track the leading edge of the slab gap, with the formation of Cu-Au and younger Au-rich porphyries until ~195 Ma. Late alkalic porphyry formation, following emplacement of the Quesnel arc onto the ancestral North American margin at ~186 Ma, may have been produced through cannibalism of mineralized intrusions emplaced at deeper crustal levels during the ~203 Ma Cu porphyry event. Two calc-alkalic porphyry deposits that predate Sitlika-Kutcho-Venables arc collision—Fin and Schaft Creek (~220 Ma)—are temporally related to arc uplift and erosion across the northern Stikine arc, but little is known about the extent and cause of this event and how it relates to porphyry Cu genesis.
Slab tears may play a dominant role in the formation of porphyry deposits globally. Previous workers have linked episodes of porphyry formation with subduction of ocean plateaus, changes in subduction polarity, or termination of subduction. In each case, slab tears are the likely underlying cause of porphyry formation. We believe them to be fundamental to mineralization in the early Mesozoic arc terranes of Stikine and Quesnel.