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A climate signal in exhumation patterns revealed by porphyry copper deposits


The processes that build and shape mountain landscapes expose important mineral resources. Mountain landscapes are widely thought to result from the interaction between tectonic uplift and exhumation by erosion1. Both climate and tectonics affect rates of exhumation, but estimates of their relative importance vary2,3. Porphyry copper deposits are emplaced at a depth of about 2 km in convergent tectonic settings; their exposure at the surface therefore can be used to track landscape exhumation. Here we analyse the distribution, ages and spatial density of exposed Cenozoic porphyry copper deposits using a global data set4 to quantify exhumation. We find that the deposits exhibit young ages and are sparsely distributed—both consistent with rapid exhumation—in regions with high precipitation, and deposits are older and more abundant in dry regions. This suggests that climate is driving erosion and mineral exposure in deposit-bearing mountain landscapes. Our findings show that the emplacement ages of porphyry copper deposits provide a means to estimate long-term exhumation rates in active orogens, and we conclude that climate-driven exhumation influences the age and abundance of exposed porphyry copper deposits around the world.

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Figure 1: Illustration of the formation and exposure of a porphyry copper deposit through climate-driven exhumation processes.
Figure 2: Distribution of Cenozoic porphyry copper deposit ages and deposit frequency.
Figure 3: Testing possible influences on exhumation rates revealed by porphyry copper deposits.
Figure 4: Comparisons of porphyry copper deposit age, climate, topography and frequency as a function of latitude along the Andean orogen.


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Discussions with B. Wilkinson helped develop the early ideas that led to the research presented in this paper. Reviews by K. Ferrier and D. Cooke greatly improved the manuscript. B.J.Y. was supported by NSF EAR-1251377.

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B.J.Y. and S.E.K. both contributed to the design of the study and analysed the data. B.J.Y. wrote the manuscript. S.E.K. provided input on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Brian J. Yanites.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Yanites, B., Kesler, S. A climate signal in exhumation patterns revealed by porphyry copper deposits. Nature Geosci 8, 462–465 (2015).

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