Geochemistry of magnetite from porphyry Cu and skarn deposits in the southwestern United States

Abstract

A combination of petrographic observations, laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), and statistical data exploration was used in this study to determine compositional variations in hydrothermal and igneous magnetite from five porphyry Cu–Mo and skarn deposits in the southwestern United States, and igneous magnetite from the unmineralized, granodioritic Inner Zone Batholith, Japan. The most important overall discriminators for the minor and trace element chemistry of magnetite from the investigated porphyry and skarn deposits are Mg, Al, Ti, V, Mn, Co, Zn, and Ga—of these the elements with the highest variance for (I) igneous magnetite are Mg, Al, Ti, V, Mn, Zn, for (II) hydrothermal porphyry magnetite are Mg, Ti, V, Mn, Co, Zn, and for (III) hydrothermal skarn magnetite are Mg, Ti, Mn, Zn, and Ga. Nickel could only be detected at levels above the limit of reporting (LOR) in two igneous magnetites. Equally, Cr could only be detected in one igneous occurrence. Copper, As, Mo, Ag, Au, and Pb have been reported in magnetite by other authors but could not be detected at levels greater than their respective LORs in our samples. Comparison with the chemical signature of igneous magnetite from the barren Inner Zone Batholith, Japan, suggests that V, Mn, Co, and Ga concentrations are relatively depleted in magnetite from the porphyry and skarn deposits. Higher formation conditions in combination with distinct differences between melt and hydrothermal fluid compositions are reflected in Al, Ti, V, and Ga concentrations that are, on average, higher in igneous magnetite than in hydrothermal magnetite (including porphyry and skarn magnetite). Low Ti and V concentrations in combination with high Mn concentrations are characteristic features of magnetite from skarn deposits. High Mg concentrations (<1,000 ppm) are characteristic for magnetite from magnesian skarn and likely reflect extensive fluid/rock interaction. In porphyry deposits, hydrothermal magnetite from different vein types can be distinguished by varying Ti, V, Mn, and Zn contents. Titanium and V concentrations are highly variable among hydrothermal and igneous magnetites, but Ti concentrations above 3,560 ppm could only be detected in igneous magnetite, and V concentrations are on average lower in hydrothermal magnetite. The highest Ti concentrations are present in igneous magnetite from gabbro and monzonite. The lowest Ti concentrations were recorded in igneous magnetite from granodiorite and granodiorite breccia and largely overlap with Ti concentrations found in hydrothermal porphyry magnetite. Magnesium and Mn concentrations vary between magnetite from different skarn deposits but are generally greater than in hydrothermal magnetite from the porphyry deposits. High Mg, and low Ti and V concentrations characterize hydrothermal magnetite from magnesian skarn deposits and follow a trend that indicates that magnetite from skarn (calcic and magnesian) commonly has low Ti and V concentrations.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Sarah Dare, Roberto Xavier, Georges Beaudoin, Karen Kelley and one anonymous reviewer, who raised important questions and provided constructive comments that helped to strengthen this paper.

Conflict of interest

Research supported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Department of the Interior, under USGS award number 3607415/06HQGR0173, and by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Patrick Nadoll.

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Editorial handling: R.P. Xavier and G. Beaudoin

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Samples selected for LA-ICP-MS analysis with information about the deposit, magnetite type, host rock, type of alteration, and, if applicable, drill hole number/mine level with corresponding depths. (DOCX 2704 kb)

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(DOCX 2698 kb)

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Nadoll, P., Mauk, J.L., Leveille, R.A. et al. Geochemistry of magnetite from porphyry Cu and skarn deposits in the southwestern United States. Miner Deposita 50, 493–515 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-014-0539-y

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Keywords

  • Magnetite
  • Hydrothermal
  • Porphyry
  • Skarn
  • Minor and trace elements