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Triggers for the formation of porphyry ore deposits in magmatic arcs

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Abstract

Porphyry ore deposits are the source of much of the copper, molybdenum, gold and silver used by humans. Porphyry ore typically forms in magmatic arcs above subduction zones. However, generation of the largest deposits is often restricted to specific arc segments and limited periods of time. Here, I outline a hierarchy of four key triggers that may be involved in the formation of large porphyry deposits. The first process is characterized by a cyclical enrichment of magmas with metals and water in the deep crust. Second, saturation of the magma with sulphide facilitates the concentration of metals into smaller volumes of material from which they can later be released. The third process is an efficient transfer of metals into hydrothermal fluids that are exsolved from the magmas. Finally, localized processes trigger the precipitation of ore minerals in the crust. Although some or all of these processes must act in concert to generate large ore deposits, I argue that sulphide saturation of the magma is the most important step and that this can explain the temporal and spatial distribution of ores. Consequently, the fingerprint of sulphide saturation in igneous rocks could be used to identify those parts of magmatic arcs that are particularly predisposed to ore formation.

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Figure 1: Suprasubduction zone setting for the formation of porphyry ore deposits.

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Acknowledgements

The contents of this Review reflect the views of the author based on a wealth of previous work by many scientists; any errors, omissions or misrepresentations are my own. I would like to thank colleagues and my current students for discussions and comments during the writing of this article, in particular D. Cooke, N. White, Z. Chang, E. Spencer, M. Loader, J. Longridge, A. Pacey and S. Kocher. I am indebted to R. Large for providing me with the opportunity to work at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Ore Deposits (CODES) at the University of Tasmania on a leave of absence from Imperial College London, 2008–2010, where initial ideas for this Review were developed.

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Wilkinson, J. Triggers for the formation of porphyry ore deposits in magmatic arcs. Nature Geosci 6, 917–925 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1940

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