The Santa Cruz porphyry Cu-(Mo) system near Casa Grande, Arizona, includes the Sacaton mine deposits and at least five other concealed, mineralized fault blocks with an estimated minimum resource of 1.5 Gt @ 0.6% Cu. The Late Cretaceous-Paleocene system has been dismembered and rotated by Tertiary extension, partially eroded, and covered by Tertiary-Quaternary basin-fill deposits. The mine and mineralized fault blocks, which form an 11 km (~7 miles) by 1.6 km (~1 mile) NE-SW–trending alignment, represent either pieces of one large deposit, several deposits, or pieces of several deposits. The southwestern part of the known system is penetrated by three or more diatremes that consist of heterolithic breccia pipes with basalt and clastic matrices, and subannular tuff ring and maar-fill sedimentary deposits associated with vents. The tephra and maar-fill deposits, which are covered by ~485 to 910 m (~1,600–3,000 ft) of basin fill, lie on a mid-Tertiary erosion surface of Middle Proterozoic granite and Late Cretaceous porphyry, which compose most xenoliths in pipes and are the host rocks of the system. Some igneous xenoliths in the pipes contain bornite-chalcopyrite-covellite assemblages with hypogene grades >1 wt % Cu, 0.01 ounces per ton (oz/t) Au, 0.5 oz/t Ag, and small amounts of Mo (<0.01 wt %). These xenoliths were derived from mineralized rocks that have not been encountered in drill holes, and attest to additional, possibly higher-grade deposits within or subjacent to the known system.

The geometry, stratigraphy, and temporal relationships of pipes and tephras, interpreted from drill hole spacing and intercepts, multigenerational breccias and matrices, reequilibrated and partially decomposed sulfide-oxide mineral assemblages, melted xenoliths, and breccia matrix compositions show that the diatremes formed in repeated stages. Initial pulses of basalt magma fractured granite, porphyry, and other crustal rocks during intrusion, transported multi-sized fragments of these rocks upward, and partially melted small fragments. Rapid decompression of magma induced catastrophic devolatilization that ruptured overlying rocks to the surface, and generated fragment-volatile suspensions that abraded conduits into near-vertical cylindrical structures. Fragments entrained in suspensions were milled and sorted, and ejected as basal surge, pyroclastic deposits, and airfall tephra that built tuff rings around vents and filled vent depressions. Comminuted m- to mm-sized fragments of wall rocks in magma and suspensions that remained in conduits solidified as heterolithic breccias. Subsequent pulses of basalt magma ascended through the same conduits, brecciated older heterolithic breccias, devolatilized, and quenched, leaving two or more generations of nested and mingled heterolithic breccias and internal zones of fluidized fragments. Tephra and maar-fill deposits from later eruptions are composed of more hydrous and oxidized minerals than earlier tephras, reflecting a higher proportion of water in transport fluid which, based on fluid inclusion populations in mineralized xenoliths, was saline water and CO2. The large vertical extent (~600 m; ~2,000 ft) of basalt matrix in pipes, near-paleosurface matrix vesiculation, and plastically deformed basalt lapilli indicates that diatreme eruptions were predominantly phreatic.

Diatreme xenoliths represent crustal stratigraphy and, as in the Santa Cruz system, provide evidence of concealed mineral resources that can guide exploration drilling through cover. Vectors to the source of bornite-dominant xenoliths containing >1% Cu and significant Au and Ag could be determined by refinement of breccia pipe geometries, by reassembly of mineralized fault blocks using modal, chemical, and temporal characteristics of hydrothermal mineral assemblages and fluid inclusions, and by paleodrainage analysis.

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