The relation between Cu/Au ratio and formation depth of porphyry-style Cu-Au ± Mo deposits

Murakami, Hiroyasu ; Seo, Jung ; Heinrich, Christoph

In: Mineralium Deposita, 2010, vol. 45, no. 1, p. 11-21

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    Constraints on gold and copper ore grades in porphyry-style Cu-Au ± Mo deposits are re-examined, with particular emphasis on published fluid pressure and formation depth as indicated by fluid inclusion data and geological reconstruction. Defining an arbitrary subdivision at a molar Cu/Au ratio of 4.0 × 104, copper-gold deposits have a shallower average depth of formation (2.1km) compared with the average depth of copper-molybdenum deposits (3.7km), based on assumed lithostatic fluid pressure from microthermometry. The correlation of Cu/Au ratio with depth is primarily influenced by the variations of total Au grade. Despite local mineralogical controls within some ore deposits, the overall Cu/Au ratio of the deposits does not show a significant correlation with the predominant type of Cu-Fe sulfide, i.e., chalcopyrite or bornite. Primary magma source probably contributes to metal endowment on the province scale and in some individual deposits, but does not explain the broad correlation of metal ratios with the pressure of ore formation. By comparison with published experimental and fluid analytical data, the observed correlation of the Cu/Au ratio with fluid pressure can be explained by dominant transport of Cu and Au in a buoyant S-rich vapor, coexisting with minor brine in two-phase magmatic hydrothermal systems. At relatively shallow depth (approximately <3km), the solubility of both metals decreases rapidly with decreasing density of the ascending vapor plume, forcing both Cu and Au to be coprecipitated. In contrast, magmatic vapor cooling at deeper levels (approximately >3km) and greater confining pressure is likely to precipitate copper ± molybdenum only, while sulfur-complexed gold remains dissolved in the relatively dense vapor. Upon cooling, this vapor may ultimately contract to a low-salinity epithermal liquid, which can contribute to the formation of epithermal gold deposits several kilometers above the Au-poor porphyry Cu-(Mo) deposit. These findings and interpretations imply that petrographic inspection of fluid inclusion density may be used as an exploration indicator. Low-pressure brine + vapor systems are favorable for coprecipitation of both metals, leading to Au-rich porphyry-copper-gold deposits. Epithermal gold deposits may be associated with such shallow systems, but are likely to derive their ore-forming components from a deeper source, which may include a deeply hidden porphyry-copper ± molybdenum deposit. Exposed high-pressure brine + vapor systems, or stockwork veins containing a single type of intermediate-density inclusions, are more likely to be prospective for porphyry-copper ± molybdenum deposits