The geochemistry of apatite from the Los Colorados iron oxide–apatite deposit, Chile: implications for ore genesis

  • Nikita L. La CruzEmail author
  • Adam C. Simon
  • Aaron S. Wolf
  • Martin Reich
  • Fernando Barra
  • Joel E. Gagnon


Apatite grains from the Los Colorados iron oxide–apatite (IOA) deposit, the largest IOA deposit in the Chilean Iron Belt (CIB), exhibit significant intracrystalline spatial variability with respect to the concentrations of F, Cl, and OH and trace elements. Statistical interrogation of the compositional data indicates that individual apatite grains contain spatially discrete F-rich and Cl-rich domains. The chemical composition of the F-rich domains is consistent with apatite growth from silicate melts, whereas the chemical composition of the Cl-rich domains is consistent with apatite growth from a magmatic-hydrothermal fluid that cooled as it percolated outward from the Los Colorados fault—the structural control for emplacement of the ore body—into the surrounding brecciated diorite and andesite host rocks. Apatite in the deposit is intimately intergrown with magnetite and actinolite for which trace element, Fe, H, and O stable isotope data indicate a combined magmatic/magmatic-hydrothermal genesis for the deposit. The compositional data for apatite are consistent with a genetic model wherein F-rich apatite cores crystallized with magnetite from silicate melt, followed by exsolution of a magmatic-hydrothermal fluid during decompression of the parent magma. Experimental studies demonstrate that magmatic-hydrothermal volatile phase bubbles preferentially nucleate and grow on the surfaces of apatite and magnetite microlites during decompression of a magma body. Continued degassing of the melt results in the volatile phase sweeping up apatite and magnetite microlites, and forming a magnetite-apatite-fluid suspension that is buoyant in the magma chamber, and ascends from the source magma along faults during regional extension. Halite-saturated fluid inclusions in magnetite, which is paragenetically equivalent to apatite at Los Colorados, indicate that the magmatic-hydrothermal fluid was a brine, which allows this fluid to efficiently scavenge Cl, P, rare earth elements, and other fluid-compatible elements from the silicate melt. During ascent, the XCl/XF ratio of apatite increases as it grows from the evolving Cl-rich magmatic-hydrothermal fluid during decompression and cooling.


Apatite geochemistry Iron oxide–apatite deposit Los Colorados IOA Chilean Iron Belt 



NLL acknowledges support from the Society of Economic Geologists student grant program, the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School, and the Scott Turner Award and George Mitchell Fund in Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. ACS acknowledges support from the United States National Science Foundation grants EAR 1250239 and 1524394. ASW acknowledges support from the Turner Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Michigan. MR and FB acknowledge funding from the MSI grant “Millennium Nucleus for Metal Tracing along Subduction” NC130065, FONDECYT grant no. 1140780 and FONDAP project 15090013 “Centro de Excelencia en Geotermia de Los Andes, CEGA.” We thank Amanda Maslyn for her assistance with the mineral separation processes used to obtain apatite grains for the grain mounts. We thank Gordon Moore for his assistance with the microprobe and scanning electron microscope analyses. We also thank Jean Claude Barrette (University of Windsor) for his assistance with the laser ablation ICP-MS analyses. We thank Mr. Wizard, Dale Austin, for his assistance making the comparison plots. Finally, we would like to acknowledge geologists Mario Rojo, Rodrigo Munizaga, and Mario Lagos from Compañía Minera del Pacífico (CAP), for providing access to Los Colorados and logistical support during drill core and surface sampling. We thank Dan Harlov, an anonymous reviewer, AE Rolf Romer, and Editor Georges Beaudoin for their thoughtful comments and feedback that greatly improved the manuscript substantively and stylistically.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geology and Andean Geothermal Center of Excellence (CEGA)Universidad de ChileSantiagoChile
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of WindsorWindsorUSA

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