To meet surging requirements of copper for the green energy revolution, minable resources subequal to all copper production in history must be found in the next two decades. We show that trace elements in zircon and whole-rock samples that are diagnostic of unusually high-pressure magmatic differentiation and high hydration state and oxidation state of their parent silicate melt are effective for discriminating copper sulfide-ore-productive arc magmas from infertile arc magmas. Tests on our database of 5,777 zircons from 80 igneous complexes, including 2,220 zircons from ore-generative intrusions in 37 major porphyry and high-sulfidation epithermal Cu(-Au-Mo) deposits worldwide, demonstrate that our magmatic copper fertility discriminants apparently perform equally well in intraoceanic arcs, continental margin arcs, and continental collision orogens of Ordovician to Quaternary age. That performance consistency means that the tectono-magmatic controls on development of magmatic-hydrothermal copper ore-forming fertility are essentially the same in all those plate-convergence settings. The ratio Ce/√(U × Ti) in zircon is a quantitative indicator of the relative oxygen fugacity of the silicate melt and its sulfur-carrying capacity. The ratio of the europium anomaly to ytterbium in granitoid melts and zircon is an uncalibrated but empirically useful indicator of the melt’s hydration state and ability to provide chloride-complexed metals to exsolving hydrothermal fluids. Plots of (EuN/Eu*)/YbN vs. Ce/√(U × Ti) in zircon are remarkably effective for discriminating igneous complexes, arc segments, and time intervals within them that can generate and are likely to host magmatic-hydrothermal Cu(-Au-Mo) ore deposits. Arrays of cognate zircons on such plots have slopes that vary with pressure-dependent chlorinity of exsolving fluid and its efficacy in scavenging CuCl from the melt. Our zircon indicators of Cu metallogenic fertility are applicable to detrital as well as in situ zircons and can assist with ore discovery in watersheds upstream from a sediment sampling site. We formulated a composite zircon copper fertility index (ZCFI) that can be applied to each microbeam spot analysis—ZCFI = 104 (EuN/EuN*)/YbN + 5 Ce/√(Ui × Ti)—and substantially decreases the number of zircon analyses needed for reliable prospectivity assessment in a detrital grain population, thereby making this watershed-scale exploration tool cost-competitive with other methods of geochemical exploration.

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