In porphyry ore deposit models, the propylitic alteration facies is widely interpreted to be caused by convective circulation of meteoric waters. However, recent field-based and geochemical data suggest that magmatic-derived fluids are likely to contribute to development of the propylitic assemblage. In order to test this hypothesis, we determined the oxygen and hydrogen isotope compositions of propylitic mineral separates (epidote, chlorite, and quartz), selected potassic mineral separates (quartz and magnetite), and quartz-hosted fluid inclusions from around the E48 and E26 deposits in the Northparkes porphyry Cu-Au district, New South Wales, Australia. In addition, the strontium isotope composition of epidote was determined to test for the potential contribution of seawater in the Northparkes system given the postulated island-arc setting and submarine character of some country rocks.
Oxygen isotope geothermometry calculations indicate potassic alteration occurred between ~600° and 700°C in magmatic/mineralized centers, persisting to ~450°C upon lateral transition into propylitic alteration. Across the propylitic facies, temperature progressively decreased outward to <250°C. These temperature estimates and additional data from chlorite geothermometry were utilized to calculate the oxygen and hydrogen isotope composition of the fluid in equilibrium with the sampled minerals. Results show that propylitic fluids spanned a range of compositions with δ18O between 0.5 and 3.7‰ and δD between –49 and –17‰. Comparison of these results with the modeled compositions of meteoric and/or magmatic fluids during their evolution and isotopic exchange with local country rocks shows that a magmatic fluid component must exist across the propylitic halo during its formation. Strontium isotope data from propylitic epidote provide initial (based on formation at ~450 Ma) 87Sr/86Sr values in the range of 0.704099 to 0.704354, ruling out the presence of seawater as a second fluid in the system. Although we cannot exclude magmatic-meteoric mixing, especially toward the fringes of the system, our results support a model in which magmatic-derived fluid is the primary driver of propylitic alteration as it undergoes cooling and chemical equilibration during outward infiltration into country rocks. This is consistent with chemical mass transfer calculations for Northparkes and published chemical-thermodynamic models that only require a magmatic fluid for the production of propylitic assemblages. In view of this and supporting data from other deposits, we suggest that magmatic fluids are essential drivers of propylitic alteration in porphyry systems.