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A genetic model based on evapoconcentration for sediment-hosted exotic-Cu mineralization in arid environments: the case of the El Tesoro Central copper deposit, Atacama Desert, Chile

Abstract

Although the formation of exotic-Cu deposits is controlled by multiple factors, the role of the sedimentary environment has not been well defined. We present a case study of the El Tesoro Central exotic-Cu deposit located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. This deposit consists of two mineralized bodies hosted within Late Cenozoic gravels deposited in an arid continental environment dominated by alluvial fans with sub-surficial ponded water bodies formed at the foot of these fans or within the interfan areas. Both exotic-Cu orebodies mostly consist of chrysocolla, copper wad, atacamite, paratacamite, quartz, opal, and calcite. The most commonly observed paragenesis comprises chrysocolla, silica minerals, and calcite and records a progressive increase in pH, which is notably influenced by evaporation. The results of stable isotope analyses (δ13C and δ18O) and hydrogeochemical simulations confirm that evapoconcentration is the main controlling factor in the exotic-Cu mineralization at El Tesoro Central. This conclusion complements the traditional genetic model based on the gradual neutralization of highly oversaturated Cu-bearing solutions that progressively cement the gravels and underlying bedrock regardless of the depositional environment. This study concludes that in exotic-Cu deposits formed relatively far from the source, a favorable sedimentary environment and particular hydrologic and climatic conditions are essential to trap, accumulate, evapoconcentrate, neutralize and saturate Cu-bearing solutions to trigger mineralization. Thus, detailed sedimentological studies should be incorporated when devising exploration strategies in order to discover new exotic-Cu resources, particularly if they are expected to have formed relatively far from the metal sources.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Antofagasta Minerals S.A. and its personnel for their cooperation and assessment during the field work. We gratefully acknowledge Laura Evenstar and Bernd Lehmann for their useful reviews that have largely contributed to improve this work.

Funding

This study was funded by the PhD grant CONICYT-PCHA/Doctorado Nacional/2016-21160193 of the corresponding author and by the research projects FONDECYT N°1121041 and Anillo ACT1203 (CONICYT, Chilean Government), LMI-COPEDIM (IRD, French Government) and CGL2014-54818-P (Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, Spanish Government).

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Correspondence to A. Fernández-Mort.

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Editorial handling: B. Lehmann

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

Table of equivalence between the gravel units defined by Mora et al. (2004) and Riquelme et al. (2017). The yellow rectangle indicates the position of the sedimentary log illustrated in Fig. 4B and the narrow green rectangles represent both exotic-Cu orebodies of El Tesoro Central (GIF 23 kb)

High resolution image (EPS 4562 kb)

ESM 2

Table of facies association (A1, A2 and A3) description and interpretation (GIF 87 kb)

High resolution image (EPS 16082 kb)

B

(GIF 47 kb)

High resolution image (EPS 16052 kb)

ESM 3

(A) Numerical δ13C and δ18O values of the analyses performed on twenty-eight samples distributed along the sedimentary log illustrated in the Fig. 4B. The height (m) and the symbols indicate the position of each sample within the sedimentary log. (B) Numerical δ13C and δ18O values of the analyses performed on specific points of hand samples from the upper exotic-Cu orebody. The precise location of each analysis is shown in the photographs of Fig. 8. (GIF 63 kb)

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ESM 4

Used and obtained data in the PHREEQC modeling of the thermodynamic feasibility of the formation of oxidized copper minerals from the evaporation of Cu-bearing aqueous solutions within an exotic environment (GIF 52 kb)

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Fernández-Mort, A., Riquelme, R., Alonso-Zarza, A.M. et al. A genetic model based on evapoconcentration for sediment-hosted exotic-Cu mineralization in arid environments: the case of the El Tesoro Central copper deposit, Atacama Desert, Chile. Miner Deposita 53, 775–795 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-017-0780-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-017-0780-2

Keywords

  • Exotic-Cu deposit
  • Atacama Desert
  • Chrysocolla
  • Sediment-hosted ore deposit
  • Supergene mineralization
  • Stable isotopes