Porphyry Cu deposits are commonly thought to have formed by magmas that were unusually rich in metal and/or sulfur. In this study, we test this assumption by reconstructing the metal and sulfur content of an ore-related latite magma at Bingham Canyon and comparing it with that of intermediate magmas in several other arc magma systems. The ore-related latite magma at Bingham Canyon records strong evidence for magma mixing and has a major to trace element composition that can successfully be modeled by a mixture of ~40 wt % mafic magma, which was similar to the most mafic rock found at Bingham Canyon (a melanephelinite containing 45 wt % SiO2), and ~60 wt % felsic magma of rhyolitic composition. Based on the modal abundance of 0.19 ± 0.01 vol % sulfides and laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry analyses of unaltered sulfide inclusions preserved within hornblende and plagioclase phenocrysts, the latite magma contained 50 to 90 ppm Cu, 0.8 to 2.0 ppb Au, 2 to 3 ppm Mo, and ≥0.12 to 0.14 wt % S. Whole-rock and melt and sulfide inclusion data suggest that the bulk of copper and Au in the latite magma was derived from the mafic end member, whereas significant amounts of sulfur were also provided by the felsic end member. A rough, independent estimate of the amount of Cu present in the mixed magma can be obtained by taking the Cu content of mafic, sulfide-undersaturated silicate melt inclusions and multiplying it with the mass fraction of mafic magma involved in the magma mixing.
Applying this latter approach to two other porphyry Cu-mineralized magma systems (Santa Rita, USA; Bajo de la Alumbrera, Argentina) and several modern arc magma systems suggests that ore-forming intermediate magmas in mineralized systems were not unusually Cu rich. Whether or not they were unusually sulfur rich could not be answered with the available data. If the sulfur contents of mineralizing magmas prove to be normal, then the most distinctive feature of fertile magma systems may be the formation of large, long-lived magma chambers at 5- to 15-km depth and the development of vent structures that enable focused fluid flow.