Using platinum group elements to identify sulfide saturation in a porphyry Cu system: The El Abra porphyry Cu deposit, Northern Chile

Helen A. Cocker*, Dianne L. Valente, Jung Woo Park, Ian H. Campbell

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    42 Citations (Scopus)


    Geochronological and geochemical studies, including platinum group element (PGE) analyses, were undertaken on samples from the El Abra-Pajonal igneous complex, northern Chile, to investigate the magmatic evolution of the suite. Special attention was paid to identifying the onset of sulfide saturation and to documenting how it influenced the geochemistry of the chalcophile elements and the formation of the El Abra porphyry Cu deposit. The PGE have extreme sulfide melt-silicate melt partition coefficients, making them sensitive indicators of the timing of sulfide saturation in an evolving magmatic system. In arc-related intermediate to felsic magmatic systems, which have the potential to produce porphyry deposits, the timing and extent of sulfide saturation relative to orefluid saturation may control the capacity of these systems to produce economic mineralization and, if they do, whether the deposits are Cu-only or Cu-Au. This study incorporates the first comprehensive analysis of PGE in a felsic magmatic suite associated with an economic porphyry system. The suite comprises a series of quartz monzodiorite to granite intrusions with U-Pb zircon ages between 43 and 35 Ma. Their petrography and major element chemistry, including increasing Sr/Y ratios and rare earth element patterns, suggest that crystal fractionation and crustal assimilation were the key magmatic processes governing the evolution of the El Abra-Pajonal suite. Plagioclase fractionation dominated the oldest intrusions, and their associated granites and aplites. Following the injection of a more primitive, wetter, mafic magma at 41-40 Ma, plagioclase fractionation became suppressed and amphibole became the dominant fractionating phase, leading to the formation of the El Abra porphyry intrusion and Cu deposit. Abundances of Pt and Pd in felsic rocks from the El Abra-Pajonal intrusive complex drop rapidly in samples with MgO values below 2·5wt %, following sulfide saturation of the magmas, which occurred slightly before ore-fluid saturation and formation of the Cu deposit. Modeling suggests that the amount of sulfide formed was very small, enough to strip the PGE and Au from the magma but not Cu, because of the lower partition coefficient of Cu relative to the precious metals, which explains why the mineralization at El Abra is a Cu-only porphyry deposit, rather than a Cu-Au deposit.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberegv076
    Pages (from-to)2491-2514
    Number of pages24
    JournalJournal of Petrology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


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