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Continental-root control on the genesis of magmatic ore deposits

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Abstract

Giant magma-related ore systems are prime targets for modern mineral exploration, yet it is unclear what controls their formation. The magmas originate in Earth's convecting mantle. To reach the surface, they must pass through the stagnant sub-continental lithospheric mantle, but the role of this mantle in ore genesis is vigorously debated. In one view, the ascending magmas are already metal-rich and the sub-continental lithospheric mantle acts only as a passive, buoyant raft on which the continental crust — the final store for the ore deposits — rides. Here we argue that the sub-continental lithospheric mantle may actually contain ore-forming elements that could be entrained by ascending magmas, and that it therefore plays a significant role in the genesis of magmatic ore. Specifically, we suggest that some types of magma pick up ore-forming components, such as diamonds and gold, and possibly platinum-group elements, during their passage through the mantle lithosphere, and that the three-dimensional structure of the lithosphere helps to focus deposition of the ore. We therefore suggest that models for ore genesis and exploration need to incorporate the entire lithosphere to be effective.

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Figure 1: Upper-lithospheric domains (0–100 km) derived from integrated mapping of geological and geophysical data.
Figure 2: Vs tomography of the lithospheric mantle.
Figure 3: Re-Os data for LIPs and other magmas.
Figure 4: Interactions between magmas and the SCLM.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Steve Grand and Brandon Schmandt for providing seismic tomography data; Jon Hronsky, Bob Loucks, Norman Pearson, Steve Barnes and Steve Beresford for useful discussions; and Ming Zhang for his comprehensive review of isotopic data. We acknowledge long-term support for lithospheric analysis by WMC Resources Ltd, BHP Billiton Ltd and Macquarie University. Extensive analytical work at GEMOC used instrumentation purchased with, and supported by, funding from the ARC, DEST, Macquarie University and industry. Further support was provided by ARC Discovery and Linkage Grants to W.L.G. and S.Y.O'R. This is contribution 207 from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems (www.ccfs.mq.edu.au) and 848 from the GEMOC Key Centre (www.gemoc.mq.edu.au).

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Contributions

All of the authors contributed to the lithospheric mapping and geochemical analysis for this paper. G.C.B. assembled much of the information on metallic ore deposits; W.L.G., S.Y.O'R. and G.C.B. synthesized the information on lithosphere composition and structure and diamond deposits. Most of the manuscript has been written by W.L.G. and G.C.B., with important contributions by S.Y.O'R.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. L. Griffin.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Griffin, W., Begg, G. & O'Reilly, S. Continental-root control on the genesis of magmatic ore deposits. Nature Geosci 6, 905–910 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1954

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