Porphyry Cu (±Mo ±Au) and epithermal Au-Ag deposits are major sources of mined metals and are commonly formed by magmatic-hydrothermal fluids derived from hydrous magmas in Phanerozoic convergent margin settings. The igneous rock assemblages associated with porphyry mineral deposits are common in modern convergent margin settings, but while many have produced acidic magmatic fluids, very few, past or present, have produced sufficient metal, chlorine, and sulfur enrichments necessary to engender an ore deposit. The reasons for this remain uncertain.

We report SHRIMP-RG ion microprobe analyses of hafnium, titanium and rare earth element (REE) abundances in zircon, a nearly ubiquitous and robust trace mineral in crustal magmas. Comparison of the compositions of zircons in ore-forming and barren granitic plutons indicate that ore-forming granites crystallized at relatively low temperature and have relatively small negative europium anomalies (mostly EuN/EuN* ≥0.4). We interpret these small zircon europium anomalies to indicate oxidizing magmatic conditions and hypothesize that in many cases this reflects oxidation due to SO2 degassing from magmas with a relatively low Fe/S ratio. Oxidation of europium and iron in the melt is produced by reduction of magmatic sulfate (S6+) to SO2 (S4+) upon degassing. This interpretation reinforces the important role of oxidized sulfur-rich fluids in porphyry and epithermal mineral deposit formation. Zircon compositions thus may be used to identify ancient magmas that released significant amounts of SO2-rich gases, and regional surveys of zircon composition are potentially a valuable tool for mineral exploration.

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