The Kupol epithermal Au-Ag vein district is located in the northern part of the Okhotsk-Chukotka volcanic belt, a Late Cretaceous subduction-related continental volcanic arc exposed for >3,000 km along the eastern coast of Russia. High-grade veins are hosted in the Kupol andesite sequence, a 300- to 1,000-m-thick, subhorizontal, layered sequence of andesite flows, sills, and ash tuffs, dated at 97 to 96 Ma (Cenomanian). The Kupol andesite sequence is underlain by mixed mafic-felsic volcanic units plus sedimentary rocks (“older volcanics”) and overlain by a >1-km-thick “upper felsic” sequence of dacitic-rhyolitic tuffs and associated dikes and flow domes, dated at 95 to 85 Ma, with local sequences of fluvio-lacustrine sedimentary rocks.
The epithermal veins occupy N-striking, steeply dipping normal faults that cut thick coherent andesite flows and sills in the central-upper part of the Kupol andesite sequence. The district is dominated by the large Kupol vein (180.7 tonnes (t) Au and 1,986 t Ag produced to 2020), hosted by the 5.5-km-long Kupol fault, which accommodates normal, east-side-down displacement of up to 190 m. The Moroshka and Providence veins, 5 km east-southeast of Kupol, occupy shorter faults (1- to 2-km strike) with smaller vertical displacements (to 70 m). The Moroshka vein is dated at 93.5 ± 1.5 Ma (Turonian; 40Ar/39Ar method on adularia), and the timing of vein mineralization here and at Kupol overlaps with the early stage of upper felsic sequence magmatism. Veins contain subhorizontal ore shoots, controlled by the intersection of the steep faults with flat-lying Kupol andesite sequence stratigraphy and by steepening of the faults to a more dilational orientation as the inferred paleosurface is approached. Local structural controls are also evident, reflecting a component of oblique slip on the Kupol fault, with the thickest vein segments at steeply pitching jogs and relays. Main-stage veins grew via repeated encrustation by quartz-chalcedony ± amethyst ± lattice bladed calcite (replaced by quartz), with Au-Ag–bearing crustiform adularia ± clays ± sulfides/sulfosalts/electrum ± chlorite ± hematite bands. The main controls on Au grade are inferred to have been boiling, resulting in sharp vertical limits to high metal grades typical of epithermal veins, coupled with optimal dilation of the vein system where the hosting normal fault steepens near surface with decreasing differential stress. Although much of the displacement on the controlling faults is pre-mineralization in timing, lithified cataclastic breccia, coeval with some vein stages, and vein geometry patterns indicate that some vein development occurred contemporaneously during late normal displacement along the fault system. Waning of the hydrothermal system is marked by late carbonate fill, initially Fe dolomite, then coarse calcite as veins, matrix to vein breccia, and central vein cavity fill.
The Kupol district veins have proximal adularia-quartz alteration (haloes meters wide), within an extensive (hundreds of meters in scale) clay alteration halo. Clays are zoned both vertically and laterally with respect to veins, with inner illite-chlorite that was magnetite-destructive (at highest paleotemperature; >220°C), grading outward and upward to illite/interlayered illite-smectite with kaolinite, then to an outer zone (or upper blanket) of smectite, at lowest paleo-temperature (<150°C). The boundary between the illite and smectite zones is interpreted to mark the interaction limit of paleo-hydrothermal systems with cooler groundwater. District-scale pathfinder element zonation correlates with clays, with S-Te-Bi-As in the illite-chlorite core and Sb-Cs-Tl(-As-Li) in the smectite blanket. Pathfinder zonation patterns at Kupol point to a magmatic source at depth or, more likely given the scale of the anomalies, multiple magmatic sources, with the surface clay zonation indicating the extent of coalesced paleo-hydrothermal systems associated with upflow plumes. This is the best-defined alteration record with geochemical signature for a complete district hosting a large, high-grade vein deposit. Early definition of clay and pathfinder element patterns across an entire epithermal district can be carried out at low cost to provide useful constraints on vein targeting.