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From Source to Sinks in Auriferous

Magmatic-Hydrothermal Porphyry
and Epithermal Deposits
Richard M. Tosdal1, John H. Dilles2 and David R. Cooke3

1811-5209/09/0005-0289$2.50 DOI: 10.2113/gselements.5.5.289

uriferous porphyry Cu deposits are restricted to convergent plate extensive interchange with the
settings, whereas epithermal precious metal deposits form at mafic-rich lower crust (Hildreth
and Moorbath 1988), forming
extending convergent plate settings and in rifts. Both deposit types magma of intermediate composi-
are linked to magma carrying metals and ligands that rises to form an tion. This magma rises to higher
upper-crustal magma chamber. Magma convection and fractionation lead crustal levels, where it assimilates
crustal material and fractionates to
tovolatile exsolution and collection in the apical parts of the chamber, from more felsic compositions. Dioritic
which exsolved hydrothermal fluid ascends to form either a porphyry CuAu magma is common in mafic-dom-
deposit associated with stocks and dykes generally at 25 km depth, or an inated crust, whereas magma of
granodioritic composition is more
epithermal deposit associated with coeval volcanic rocks at depths of <1 km.
common in felsic-dominated crust.
Keywords: magma, hydrothermal evolution, porphyry Cu, epithermal precious metal Magma composition influences the
metal budget of an associated por
INTRODUCTION phyry deposit (Seedorff et al. 2005).
Gold deposits come in many different sizes and shapes and Magma ascending into the upper crust accumulates in a
are found in a range of environments. Each Au-bearing chamber (Fig. 2) that commonly measures 1015 km across
deposit type is the end result of a series of geological events and a few kilometres in vertical extent at depths of 2 to
that together lead to an anomalous concentration in the Earths 12 km (Hamilton and Myers 1967; Dilles et al. 2000).
crust. Of the many types of gold deposits, porphyry- and Critical to the chamber construction is a high and sustained
epithermal-type deposits associated with upper-crustal rate of magma generation and ascent, as individual magma
intrusions account for significant Au production on an annual chambers can solidify in a very short time, measured in
basis. We review the salient features of these magmatic- tens of thousands of years, unless continually replenished.
hydrothermal deposits, considering first the ultimate source There is considerable uncertainty as to the duration of an
of the magmatic components, then the hydrothermal upper-crustal magma chamber as many factors are involved.
system and metal transport, and, finally, metal deposition. Nonetheless, it is clear that continual magma intrusion
from depth is required to form in a remarkably short time
Magma genesis and then sustain a convecting upper-crustal chamber (Fig.2).
Most Au-bearing porphyry Cu and epithermal deposits are
associated with the emplacement of upper-crustal magma
chambers. The magma chambers are largely the product of A porphyry B porphyry pluton

subduction of an oceanic plate beneath an overriding oce- pluton

oxidized magma ascent
anic or continental plate, although a distinct subset of MASH oxidized magma ascent
mineralized porphyry-related magmatic complexes form enriched SLM enriched SLM
in collisional orogens long after subduction of an oceanic partial melting
hydrated mantle
melting zone
subducting slab with
plate has ceased (Fig. 1) (Seedorff et al. 2005; Richards 2009). hydrated oceanic crust
Magma generation begins in the mantle, most probably
through dehydration of the subducting slab at a depth of
~100 km or through depression of the lower crust and upper EXTENSIONAL TECTONISM
mantle into a zone of melting during collisional orogenesis. C epithermal D
Above subducting slabs, rising aqueous fluids carry incom- pluton
patible elements (volatiles, large-ion lithophile elements, oxidized magma ascent epithermal
silicon) into the overlying mantle wedge, thereby metaso- enriched SLM pluton
matizing and enriching it. Melting the modified subcrustal partial melting
partial melting of
subducting slab with hydrated mantle
mantle yields basaltic melts that collect at the base of the hydrated oceanic crust
SLM or upper mantle

crust (Fig. 1a, c). There, the mantle-derived melts undergo

1 Mineral Deposit Research Unit, University of British Columbia Tectonic setting of porphyry Cu and epithermal depos-
Figure 1
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada its. Porphyry CuAu deposits form at the end of mag-
E-mail: matic episodes during contraction, dominantly in a convergent plate
margin undergoing collision (A) or soon after collision (B). In con-
2 Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University
trast, epithermal deposits are associated with extension at the con-
OR 97370, USA
vergent plate margin (C) or (D) in a rift zone. MASH: zone of crustal
3 Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence melting and assimilation, magma storage, and homogenization.
University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia SLM: sublithospheric mantle

E lements , V ol . 5, pp. 289295 289 O c tober 2009

Loss of volatiles or entire
system if eruption
Vapour transport to hydrosphere
followed by Cu, Au, Ag, etc. Vapour transport to lithocap followed by
forming quartzadularia system Cu, Au, Ag, etc. forming quartzalunite system

Dilute fluids: meteoric water, seawater

Magmatic ore fluid to porphyry:
H2O, Cl, Na, K, H, Fe, Cu, H2S

Dispersal of H2O, Cl, Fe, Cu

Non-magmatic as unfocused fluids exsolved from melt
waters convect by
pluton heat Wall rock assimilation
talline carapace adds: H2O, SiO2, Na,
Crys K, S, metals (Mo, W,
Warm saline As, Sb, Pb, Zn, Se, Li,
formation water Density-stratified chamber undergoing Cs, Ba, Rb)
thermal convection
Possible leaching of
wall rocks to provide
Cl, Na, Fe, CO2 S,
Cu, Zn, Pb, Ag, As

Accumulation of immiscible
Fractional crystallization of magmatic sulfides and oxides
Pyr Ol, Plag, Mag, Hnbd, Bi
causes increase in SiO2, Na, K,
Fe/Mg, S, H2O, F, Cl, Magma recharge from mantle;
provides heat, minor H2O, F, 5 km
incompatible trace elements
(REE, U, Cu, Pb, Hg, etc) Cl, S and moderate Cu, Zn, Au + Ag

A critical component of magma-related porphyry and Figure 2 Construction of a convecting upper-crustal magma
epithermal deposits is an oxidized magma. An average dioritic chamber at depths of 612 km beneath the surface
through the input of mafic magma from depth. Exsolved
or granodioritic magma has sufficient metals to generate hydrothermal fluid collects in the apical parts of the chamber and
porphyry deposits, but the magma must be oxidized and escapes vertically into the porphyry and epithermal environment.
sulfur rich such that sulfur is retained in the magma as Mineral abbreviations: Bi, biotite; Hnbd, hornblende; Mag,
sulfate and not in the reduced form, which will crystallize magnetite; Ol, olivine; Pl, plagioclase; Pyr, pyroxene.
to form sulfide minerals that sink to the bottom of the
magma chamber (Chambefort et al. 2008). Thus, magma dominated by hydration, carbonation and oxidation reac-
must ascend through tens of kilometres of crust of variable tions, forming albite, chlorite, epidote and carbonate
composition (Fig. 1a, b) without significantly changing its minerals to saline fluids and brines capable of strong alkali
oxidation state. Upon volatile saturation, the sulfur may parti- metasomatism producing higher-temperature sodic-calcic
tion into the magmatic volatile phase and be transported alteration (Na-plagioclase, actinolite, epidote) at depth and
to the site of deposition (Candela and Piccoli 2005). associated propylitic alteration at shallower crustal levels
Porphyry and epithermal deposits are inherently related (Fig. 4). Brines involved in such large-scale alteration can
to arc magmatism. Overall, there is a common theme of dissolve and transport large quantities of Fe, K, Cu, Au and
short- to long-lived magmatism (~1 to 10 million years), other elements, and where precipitation occurs may form
evolving from early volcanism to main-stage plutonism as iron oxidecoppergold deposits (Dilles et al. 2000).
the magmatic arc wanes (Sillitoe 2000). Porphyry intru-
sions directly associated with mineralization do not erupt Tectonic setting of porphyry
and commonly form relatively late during the magmatic andepithermal deposits
episode. Where a case can be made for approximately Plate tectonic setting plays a critical role in determining
synchronous volcanism, it is low-volume domes that appear what type of ore deposit forms in a particular location at
to be largely present. Volcanic activity results in the loss a particular time. The relationship of porphyry Cu deposits
of key volatiles in the eruption column, which can short- to convergent plate margins and, as recognized more
circuit the porphyry-forming process and yield negative recently, to collisional orogens (Fig. 1a- b) is a long-held
porphyry systems (Pasteris 1996). In contrast, volcanic tenet in the deposit model. Within these orogens, porphyry
activity is intimately associated with epithermal deposits deposits form during narrow time intervals in a particular
(Simmons et al. 2005), as it may enhance the ability of segment of an arc. Generally, porphyry deposits form near
hydrothermal fluids to rise into the shallow crust. the end of a magmatic episode or during a change of defor-
Emplacement of hot magma into shallow crust typically mation styles when the arc is undergoing limited contrac-
drives hydrothermal convection cells in the wall rocks tion (Sillitoe 2000). The ultimate tectonic trigger for these
(Figs. 2 and 3) that operate over radii of many kilometres events is uncertain, with proposed scenarios including
(Dilles et al. 2000). These ground waters range from dilute changing subduction geometry, collision and subduction
meteoric waters which may produce propylitic alteration of irregularities in the down-going plate.

E lements 290 O c tober 2009

In contrast, the geological setting of epithermal deposits
is more variable, including volcanic dome fields, peripheral Upward flow of magma-derived
areas of volcanoes and rift zones. Most deposits form in hydrothermal fluid
extending arcs or rifts (Fig. 1c, d), contemporaneous with
0 Epithermal
shallow-level magmatism and thermally driven hydro-
thermal circulation (Sillitoe and Hedenquist 2003). Few Advanced argillic
epithermal deposits form during contraction, and those Propylitic
known formed in localized extensional settings (Cooke
and Simmons 2000).
Gold-bearing porphyry Cu deposits argillic
2 (late overprint) Thermally

Porphyry Cu deposits with average Au contents of >0.4
gram (g)/metric ton (t) are defined as gold rich (Sillitoe driven
Quartz-sericite-pyrite circulation
2000). In general, Au contents are <1 g/t although in some
deposits, such as Grasberg (Indonesia) and Ridgeway (phyllic) of external
(Australia), they are higher. What makes porphyry deposits 3 fluid
major sources of Au is their sheer size, with deposits
containing from 50 Mt to 4500 Mt of ore. (There are very Na-Ca fluid
few Au-only porphyry deposits. Most deposits become K-silicate alteration
mines based on their Cu content, which pays for the devel- 4 Cu-bearing
opment; Au is recovered as a by-product). The deposits are
associated with low-K calc-alkaline diorite to tonalite,
Fluid-saturated carapace
high-K calc-alkaline quartz monzonite, and alkaline
monzonite and syenite, some of which are silica under- 5
saturated and compose a class of alkalic porphyry systems
(Jensen and Barton 2000; Sillitoe 2000). Distribution of alteration assemblages in a simplified
Figure 3
porphyry CuAu deposit. Volatiles collect in the apical
Porphyry-type systems are spatially and genetically associ- carapace of the magma chamber and follow the porphyry intrusion
to shallow depths. Alteration assemblages reflecting the gradual
ated with porphyritic intrusions. The stocks are of calc- cooling of the exsolved magmatic-hydrothermal plume are stacked
alkaline to alkaline composition and oxidized. The stocks vertically; mineral assemblages also depend on physicochemical
are characterized by hydrous phenocryst phases, such as changes in the fluid during the buoyant rise to shallow depths. Circu-
amphibole and biotite, whose stability requires at least lating ground waters driven by thermal energy from the underlying
pluton form the propylitic alteration assemblage.
4 wt% H 2O in the melt (Burnham 1979). Convecting
magma reaches saturation in the lower-pressure parts of
the magma chamber, so that the apical parts of the magma itation. Brine and vapour, due to their large density
chamber become water saturated, forming a bubble-rich contrast, may physically separate, with chloride and chlo-
froth (Figs. 2 and 3). Ascent of such fluids hydrofractures ride-complexed species (for example, Cu, Pb, Zn, K, and
the overlying rock, allowing magma to ascend as narrow some Au) concentrated in the brine and H2S and bisulfide-
dykes and plugs. Magma ascent is accompanied by a pres- complexed species (potentially Au, Cu and As) concentrated
sure drop, vapour loss and pressure-quenching, thus in the vapour.
forming the characteristic aplitic groundmass of the In the porphyry environment, the high-temperature fluid
porphyry intrusions. Massive hydrofracturing of wall rocks alters the rock to mineral assemblages consisting of quartz,
and stocks forms the pathways for ascent of magmatic K-feldspar, biotite, anhydrite and magnetite the potassic
fluids from the cupola. alteration assemblage (Figs. 4a and 5a, b) (Gustafson and
The exsolved, water-rich volatile phase concentrated at the Hunt 1975). In alkalic porphyry systems, the Ca-bearing
top of the magma chamber contains a range of water- minerals garnet, diopside and actinolite are reported in
soluble volatile components, such as Cl and S species. equilibrium with the typical potassic alteration assemblage
Magmatic-hydrothermal fluid commonly separates from in the high-temperature core of the system (Lang et al.
the magma as a single-phase fluid (>1.4 kb or 5 km depth) 1995). In other porphyry deposits, Na-Ca alteration
of relatively low density, with ~5 wt% dissolved solids, minerals in the core represent the influx of external non-
dominated by salts. The ascending and depressurizing magmatic fluids into the magma-derived hydrothermal
parent fluid intersects the broad field of fluid immiscibility systems (Dilles et al. 1995).
between 750C and the critical point of a dilute salty fluid Gold-bearing sulfide minerals are deposited with the
water at 374C, leading to the separation of a small quantity potassic alteration assemblages in association with chalco-
of high-density brine from a larger volume of low-density pyrite and bornite as disseminations in wavy or ductilely
vapour (Williams-Jones and Heinrich 2005). deformed, straight-walled, quartz-rich or sulfide-only veins.
Gold, being dominantly transported as a chloride complex Much of the Au is originally deposited as trace components
at high temperature (Williams-Jones et al. 2009 this issue), in solid solution within CuFe sulfides, which upon cooling
is precipitated along with CuFe sulfides in the porphyry undergo exsolution to form native Au grains within the
environment at around 400C as a result of decreasing sulfide host (Kesler et al. 2002). The CuFe sulfide and Au
solubility, during cooling, of metal chloride complexes in veins are cut, and accompanied, by successively younger
the presence of H2S (Hemley and Hunt 1992). Precipitation intra-mineral to post-mineral intrusions (Fig. 5c), with less
of Au and other metals is enhanced by fluidrock reaction, and less Cu and Au being precipitated with each successive
changes in pH and fluid speciation, brinevapour unmixing intrusion (Garwin 2002).
(so-called boiling) and, in a few cases, potentially by local Superposed on the high-temperature alteration assemblages
fluid mixing (Beane and Titley 1981; Seedorff et al. 2005). in the upper parts of the porphyry system are alteration
With cooling to ~400C, most SO2 in the hydrothermal assemblages that reflect progressive cooling and changing
fluid disproportionates via reaction with water in the rising physicochemical conditions (Figs. 3 and 4a). One assem-
fluid to form H2SO4 and H2S, which promotes sulfide precip- blage, less common in Au-rich porphyry Cu deposits, is

E lements 291 O c tober 2009

A Potential initial fluid compositions
System K2OAl2O3SiO2HClH2O
700 (K- P at1kb, quartz present
feld OTAS
spa SIC
r Porphyry CuAu
Bio (700 to 100C)

600 )



500 buffered


g poi


nt for
T (C)


Pyrophyllite Propylitic







Dickite pyrophyllite
li c


Dickite kaolinite Intermediate 1000


100 Kaolinite

Epithermal environment
(<300C) Smectite

100 200 300

0 1 2 3 4 5 6
log (mKCl+K+ / mHCl+H+) T (C)

dominated by quartz, sericite (fine-grained white mica: Figure 4 (A) Phase diagram for the system K 2OAl2O3 SiO2
either muscovite, phengite or, in rare cases, paragonite) H2OKClHCl at PH2O = 1 kbar, showing possible paths
of fluid evolution (dashed lines) depending upon starting fluid
and pyrite, and is known as phyllic or sericitic alteration composition. The diagram is shown in terms of temperature and the
(Figs. 3 and 4a). Where the rocks are Mg and Fe rich, chlorite molal (m) composition of the fluid. The path at left represents a
will form part of the assemblage. The quartzsericite fluid-dominant alteration sequence, whereas the other two illustrate
chlorite assemblage forms through cooling of the fluid as rock-buffered alterations. Different paths demonstrate the
importance of the starting fluid composition on the sequence of
it rises buoyantly. As previously mentioned, sulfur origi- alteration, which is in part due to different magma compositions.
nally dissolved as SO2 reacts with water and disproportion- Late influx of external fluid into the porphyry environment forms the
ates to form H2S and sulfuric acid, which extensively alters widespread rock-buffered intermediate argillic alteration. Modified
the host rocks to acid-stable minerals (Burnham 1979). The from Seedorff et al. (2005) (B) Boiling point for depth curve for
epithermal deposits showing the vertical distribution of minerals
phyllic alteration may be accompanied by the partial to in a boiling upflow zone. Redrafted from Simmons et al. (2005)
almost complete destruction of rock texture and by some
CuFe sulfide precipitation or be associated with the loss or
redistribution of Cu and Au (Sillitoe 2000; Seedorff et al.
2005). Associated veins (Gustafson and Hunt 1975) are coarse
grained and sharply defined, with strong alteration haloes; alunite. This assemblage is referred to as the leached cap
they consist of sulfide minerals (abundant pyrite, variable (Fig. 5d). Such porous and permeable alteration zones are
but generally lesser proportions of CuFe sulfide minerals, rarely exposed in porphyry systems due to erosion, so
sulfosalt minerals, sphalerite and galena), anhydrite and whether they overlie all porphyry deposits is unknown.
minor quartz. In most porphyry Cu deposits, pervasive
clays represent a low-temperature (<250C) intermediate Breccias
argillic alteration assemblage formed during the cooling Hydrothermal breccias are common in Au-rich porphyry
and collapse of the hydrothermal system (Figs. 3 and 4a). Cu deposits (Sillitoe 2000). Brecciation occurs as a result
of the large mechanical energy available from ascending,
Separation of the fluid phase into brine and vapour leads depressurizing, water-rich magmatic-hydrothermal fluids,
to the formation of a low-density vapour plume rich in which form initially under lithostatic pressure and move
acidic volatiles such as SO2, HF, H2S and CO2. If the vapour to hydrostatic pressure conditions. Accompanying massive
separates from the brine, it may rise buoyantly into the hydrofracturing destroys and displaces downward the
epithermal environment. As it cools and condenses during brittleductile transition zone separating the deeper litho-
interaction with ground water at shallow depths, it causes static from the overlying hydrostatic environment
intense acid leaching, thus forming the advanced argillic (Burnham 1985). The result is a breccia that expands
alteration (Williams-Jones and Heinrich 2005); this altera- upwards, generally forming a cone of fragmented rock
tion may or may not be associated with an epithermal whose geometry will depend upon the host rock and the
deposit (Figs. 3 and 4a). Advanced argillic alteration is char- extant structural fabric. Depending upon the timing, early
acterized by the total destruction of primary minerals, breccia can host significant metal grade, whereas late
leaving an insoluble residue of quartz, clays (kaolinite or
pyrophyllite), aluminium hydroxides (diaspore) and

E lements 292 O c tober 2009



Figure 5 Examples of characteristic rocks in porphyry and

epithermal deposits. (A) Hematite-stained K-silicate
alteration and quartzCu-Fe sulfide veins at the Ridgeway alkalic
porphyry AuCu deposit (New South Wales, Australia). (B) Intense where the magmatic input is entrained in and diluted by
multi-generational quartz vein mesh in early porphyry at the Reko a structurally controlled or topographically driven large-
Diq porphyry CuAu deposit (Pakistan). The pink halo on the quartz scale geothermal system (Fig. 2). Unlike the high- to low-
veins is K-feldpar. (C) Intra-mineral, hornblendebiotite diorite
temperature fluid history of a porphyry CuAu deposit,
porphyry containing xenoliths of biotite hornfels cut by a quartz vein
mesh and of older, sugary high-temperature quartz veins at the Reko epithermal deposits form at temperatures ranging from 150
Diq porphyry CuAu deposit (Pakistan). (D) Advanced argillic to 300C, and metal content is controlled by the composition
altered lithocap (bold outcrops with white, quartz-rich talus on slope) of the hydrothermal solution, reflecting differing origins
located above the Cerro Casale porphyry CuAu deposit (Chile).
and geological environments (Simmons et al. 2005).
(E)Banded quartzadulariaillite vein containing dark bands of
pyrargarite from the Maria vein, Manantial Espejo Mine (southern
Although numerous classifications of epithermal systems
Argentina). (F) Unoxidized and brecciated, grey quartz alunite
altered volcanic rock with infill covellite (blue mineral) and Au have been proposed, they essentially can be defined by
precipitated in breccia voids, at Yanacocha (Peru). two end member types based on the characteristic hypo-
gene mineral assemblages: (1) quartz calcite adularia
illite (Figs. 4b and 6a) and (2) quartz + alunite pyrophyllite
breccia forming at the end of the hydrothermal system dickite kaolinite (Fig. 6b) (Simmons et al. 2005). The
may be weakly mineralized or essentially remove and dilute first mineral assemblage forms in neutral pH environments
significant portions of an orebody. and encompasses the low-sulfidation and intermediate-
sulfidation deposits (Sillitoe and Hedenquist 2003), whereas
the second forms in acidic environments and is equivalent
Epithermal deposits
to high-sulfidation deposits (White and Hedenquist 1995).
Epithermal deposits form in the uppermost crust at depths
ranging from ~50 m to as much as 1500 m below the water Quartz Calcite Adularia Illite Assemblage
table. They form primarily from subaerial hydrothermal
Epithermal deposits composed of this assemblage form in
systems driven by magmatic heat and, less commonly, by
geothermal systems in volcanic arcs and rifts and result
deeply circulating ground water rising along basin-
from the deep circulation of meteoric water driven princi-
bounding faults (Lindgren 1933; Simmons et al. 2005). The
pally by a shallow intrusion. At depth, the chloride-domi-
deposits are principally linked to magmatism, either close
nated waters are near neutral and contain reduced S species
to and above the intrusion or at some distance from it,

E lements 293 O c tober 2009

Quartzadularia epithermal deposit adularia and platey calcite are deposited (Figs. 4b, 5e, and
6a). The chloride-dominated fluid may rise to the surface
Steam-heated and discharge, depositing sinter, or be dispersed laterally
(kaolinite + alunite + through an outflow zone, producing extensive zones of
native S + opaline silica) alteration and replacement. During boiling of the ascending
Water Hot spring fluid, dissolved CO2 and H 2 S are partitioned into the
table Chalcedony Sinter vapour, which rises to the surface and condenses into the
Vein local cool ground water, forming CO2 -rich or H 2 S-rich
steam-heated water. The CO2 -rich ground water is concen-
Smectite + Permeable trated along the shallow margins of the upflow zones,
mixed layer clay Dissem. strata where a carbonate mineralrich assemblage forms. The
chlorite ore H 2 S-rich ground water enters the vadose (unsaturated)
zone, and H 2S reacts with the atmosphere and is oxidized
50100 to H2SO4. This results in steam-heated zones of alteration,
Sericite or illite in which a low-pH (<2) fluid high in dissolved sulfate alters
metres the rocks to an advanced argillic mineral assemblage
consisting of opal (cristobalite), alunite, kaolinite and pyrite
0 50100
as the fluid becomes neutralized near the water table.
Chlorite + calcite
epidote Quartz + Alunite Pyrophyllite Dickite
Kaolinite Assemblage
Epithermal deposits of this type are associated with near-
surface magmatic-hydrothermal systems that are acidic (Fig.
Fluid flow 6b) and have the potential to transport large quantities of
precious and base metals (Williams-Jones and Heinrich
2005). The upflow zones are dominated by magmatic
Quartzalunite epithermal deposit vapours containing HCl, SO2 and HF, which condense into
shallow ground water and form the extremely acidic envi-
hydrothermal breccia ronments seen in some modern systems, such as crater
lakes in degassing volcanoes. Fluidrock reactions leach
cations, neutralize the acidic fluid and lead to the precipita-
milled breccia permeable tion of alunite, pyrophyllite, dickite, quartz, anhydrite,
horizon diaspore, topaz, kaolinite and illite, which is an assemblage
quartz + characteristic of fluid-dominated conditions and advanced
alunite argillic alteration (Fig. 4a). Steam-heated acid-sulfate waters
kaolinite + also form in the vadose zone, but silica sinters do not,
montmorillonite + because the acid conditions inhibit deposition of amor-
phous silica (Fournier 1985). In many magmatic-hydro-
electrum + pyrite thermal systems, metal-bearing fluids may not ascend to
enargite-luzonite quartz + kaolinite + the shallow epithermal environment, leading to a barren
alunite leached zone characterized by advanced argillic mineral
assemblages; these lithocaps are exposed in a few shallow
porphyry Cu deposits, where they represent the uppermost
50100 part of the porphyry Cu magma-derived hydrothermal
metres plume (Fig. 5d). Where metal-bearing fluid reaches the
epithermal environment, it generally post-dates intense
0 50100
leaching of wall rocks (Fig. 5f). The metalliferous oxidized
Fluid flow
fluid may cause minimal wall rock interaction and, upon
(A) Idealized cross section of a quartzadularia epithermal cooling, precipitate high-sulfidation-state minerals or, with
Figure 6
deposit showing distribution of alteration assemblages. greater waterrock interaction, more intermediate-sulfida-
(B) Idealized cross section of a quartzalunite epithermal deposit. tion-state minerals (Einaudi et al. 2003).
Modified from White and Hedenquist (1995) and Hedenquist et al. (2000)

How long does it take to form

Available geochronological and geological data suggest that
a porphyry or epithermal deposit can form in what is a
and dissolved CO2. The H 2S provides an important ligand
geological instant, on the order of a few thousand to a few
for the transport of Au as a bisulfide complex (Seward and
hundred thousand years (Arribas et al. 1995; Garwin 2002).
Barnes 1997; Williams-Jones et al. 2009 this issue). These
waters contain small amounts of magmatic fluid, which is In fact, the process of metal introduction and deposition
considered to be the source of metal precipitated in the may be so efficient that, for example, the 42 million ounces
epithermal deposits. The fluid is generally in equilibrium of Au in the Ladolam epithermal deposit in Papua New
with the host rocks and is thus rock buffered. Boiling in Guinea could have been precipitated in as little as 55,000
the central upflowing fluid, the primary mechanism for years (Simmons and Brown 2006). However, it is also
sulfide deposition, is controlled by the ambient near-hydro- important to recognize that a magmatic-hydrothermal
static pressure and temperature conditions, and quartz, system, particularly a porphyry deposit, is an integral part

E lements 294 O c tober 2009

of a long-lived and evolving magmatic complex. Such a Conclusions
complex includes a deep magma chamber, numerous intru- Porphyry and epithermal deposits have contributed signifi-
sive events and overlapping hydrothermal systems, which cantly to the global and historical production of gold. Their
may have formed, cooled and been overprinted or moved formation involves the entire lithospheric column, starting
to a different location by a younger hydrothermal system in metasomatized upper mantle, then in the upper crust where
(Gustafson and Hunt 1975; Garwin 2002). In the epith- a hydrothermal fluid exsolves from an oxidized magma, and
ermal environment, because of the rapid cooling inherent finally higher in the upper crust where changing physico-
in shallow crust, geochronology commonly distinguishes chemical conditions coupled with external geological controls
the multiple events. In contrast, the long-term perturbation contribute to precipitation and the formation of ore deposits.
of the thermal profile by multiple porphyry intrusions and
their related hydrothermal systems, as well as by the under- Acknowledgments
lying cooling batholith, may blur temporal distinctions This overview has benefited from decades of research by
between discrete spatially related porphyry systems, poten- the geological community, much of which could not be
tially detectable using modern geochronology tools. The directly cited herein. The authors thank the many scientists
result is an apparently long-lived and continuously oper- who have contributed their knowledge to the subject.
ating porphyry hydrothermal system, rather than one Suggestions to improve the manuscript by Anthony
characterized by superposed systems that may have acted Williams-Jones and Robert Hough are greatly appreciated.
episodically over a protracted period of time. This is MDRU contribution no. 236.

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