Geologic field relationships combined with spatially resolved geochemistry and high-precision U-Pb geochronology of zircons allow quantification of magmatic processes leading to porphyry emplacement and Au-Cu ore formation at Ok Tedi, the Earth’s youngest giant porphyry-skarn deposit. Trace element contents in zircons were obtained by laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry before selected grains were removed from the sample mount, chemically abraded, spiked, and dissolved for high-precision U-Pb geochronology by chemical abrasion-isotope dilution-thermal ionization mass spectrometry. U-Pb geochronology by laser ablation-sector field-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry on abundant inherited zircon cores that occur in all intrusions together with Hf isotope analyses by solution multicollector-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry permitted further assessment of the degree of crustal assimilation of the upper crustal magma reservoir.

The combined chemical data and precise crystallization ages of zircons indicate closed system fractional crystallization and concurrent cooling in a common magma reservoir, from which the intrusions at Ok Tedi were successively extracted. Inherited zircon populations and Hf isotope analyses of Pleistocene zircons record lower crustal assimilation with Proterozoic basement. Based on cathodoluminescence (CL) imaging a chemically distinct zircon population with low Th/U was identified in the youngest synore intrusive rocks. These zircons indicate injection of a distinct magma into the common magma reservoir, which triggered the emplacement of the youngest porphyry, intrusion of a polymictic breccia with partly igneous matrix, and intimately associated hydrothermal Au-Cu mineralization.

Crystallization ages of chemically characterized zircon crystals extend over a total time span of 212 ± 44 k.y., recording the minimum duration of fractional crystallization in the large magma reservoir from the time it reached zircon saturation. The youngest zircons in each intrusion resolve the emplacement of early diorite intrusions, low-grade monzodiorite porphyries, including the Sydney monzodiorite and Fubilan porphyry, into three time-resolved pulses separated by a total of ~160 k.y. The Sydney monzodiorite contains barren quartz veins and produced endoskarn and exoskarn; however, the exact timing of skarn-hosted Au-Cu mineralization is not yet clear. The emplacement of the ore-bearing Fubilan porphyry and the intrusive breccia overlap at 1.187 ± 0.022 Ma, constraining the time and duration of porphyry emplacement with associated Au-Cu mineralization. The injection of a distinct, probably more mafic magma batch into the magma reservoir preceded the emplacement of the Fubilan porphyry and the intrusive breccia by less than the resolution of 30 k.y., indicating that this event was the immediate trigger for Au-Cu mineralization at Ok Tedi.

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