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Title: The Geochemistry of Magnetite and Apatite from the El Laco Iron Oxide-Apatite Deposit, Chile: Implications for Ore Genesis
The textures of outcrop and near-surface exposures of the massive magnetite orebodies (>90 vol % magnetite) at the Plio-Pleistocene El Laco iron oxide-apatite (IOA) deposit in northern Chile are similar to basaltic lava flows and have compositions that overlap high- and low-temperature hydrothermal magnetite. Existing models— liquid immiscibility and complete metasomatic replacement of andesitic lava flows—attempt to explain the genesis of the orebodies by entirely igneous or entirely hydrothermal processes. Importantly, those models were developed by studying only near-surface and outcrop samples. Here, we present the results of a comprehensive study of samples from outcrop and drill core that require a new model for the evolution of the El Laco ore deposit. Backscattered electron (BSE) imaging, electron probe microanalysis (EPMA), and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) were used to investigate the textural and compositional variability of magnetite and apatite from surface and drill core samples in order to obtain a holistic understanding of textures and compositions laterally and vertically through the orebodies. Magnetite was analyzed from 39 surface samples from five orebodies (Cristales Grandes, Rodados Negros, San Vicente Alto, Laco Norte, and Laco Sur) and 47 drill core samples from three orebodies (Laco Norte, Laco Sur, and Extensión Laco Sur). The geochemistry of apatite from eight surface samples from three more » orebodies (Cristales Grandes, Rodados Negros, and Laco Sur) was investigated. Minor and trace element compositions of magnetite in these samples are similar to magnetite from igneous rocks and magmatic-hydrothermal systems. Magnetite grains from deeper zones of the orebodies contain >1 wt % titanium, as well as ilmenite oxyexsolution lamellae and interstitial ilmenite. The ilmenite oxyexsolution lamellae, interstitial ilmenite, and igneous-like trace element concentrations in titanomagnetite from the deeper parts of the orebodies are consistent with original crystallization of titanomagnetite from silicate melt or high-temperature magmatic-hydrothermal fluid. The systematic decrease of trace element concentrations in magnetite from intermediate to shallow depths is consistent with progressive growth of magnetite from a cooling magmatic-hydrothermal fluid. Apatite grains from surface outcrops are F rich (typically >3 wt %) and have compositions that overlap igneous and magmatic-hydrothermal apatite. Magnetite and fluorapatite grains contain mineral inclusions (e.g., monazite and thorite) that evince syn- or postmineralization metasomatic alteration. Magnetite grains commonly meet at triple junctions, which preserve evidence for reequilibration of the ore minerals with hydrothermal fluid during or after mineralization. The data presented here are consistent with genesis of the El Laco orebodies via shallow emplacement and eruption of magnetite-bearing magmatic-hydrothermal fluid suspensions that were mobilized by decompression- induced collapse of the volcanic edifice. The ore-forming magnetite-fluid suspension would have rheological properties similar to basaltic lava flows, which explains the textures and presence of cavities and gas escape tubes in surface outcrops. « less
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Economic geology
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National Science Foundation
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  1. The Plio-Pleistocene El Laco iron oxide-apatite (IOA) orebodies in northern Chile are some of the most enigmatic mineral deposits on Earth, interpreted to have formed as lava flows or by hydrothermal replacement, two radically different processes. Field observations provide some support for both processes, but ultimately fail to explain all observations. Previously proposed genetic models based on observations and study of outcrop samples include (1) magnetite crystallization from an erupting immiscible Fe- and P-rich (Si-poor) melt and (2) metasomatic replacement of andesitic lava flows by a hypogene hydrothermal fluid. A more recent investigation of outcrop and drill core samples at El Laco generated data that were used to develop a new genetic model that invokes shallow emplacement and surface venting of a magnetite-bearing magmatic-hydrothermal fluid suspension. This fluid, with rheological properties similar to basaltic lava, would have been mobilized by decompression- induced collapse of the volcanic edifice. In this study, we report oxygen, including 17O, hydrogen, and iron stable isotope ratios in magnetite and bulk iron oxide (magnetite with minor secondary hematite and minor goethite) from five of seven orebodies around the El Laco volcano, excluding San Vicente Bajo and the minor Laquito deposits. Calculated values of δ18O, Δ17O, δD,more »and δ56Fe fingerprint the source of the ore-forming fluid(s): Δ17Osample = δ17Osample – δ18Osample * 0.5305. Magnetite and bulk iron oxide (magnetite variably altered to goethite and hematite) from Laco Sur, Cristales Grandes, and San Vicente Alto yield δ18O values that range from 4.3 to 4.5‰ (n = 5), 3.0 to 3.9‰ (n = 5), and –8.5 to –0.5‰ (n = 5), respectively. Magnetite samples from Rodados Negros are the least altered samples and were also analyzed for 17O as well as conventional 16O and 18O, yielding calculated δ18O values that range from 2.6 to 3.8‰ (n = 9) and Δ17O values that range from –0.13 to –0.07‰ (n = 5). Bulk iron oxide from Laco Norte yielded δ18O values that range from –10.2 to +4.5‰ (avg = 0.8‰, n = 18). The δ2H values of magnetite and bulk iron oxide from all five orebodies range from –192.8 to –79.9‰ (n = 28); hydrogen is present in fluid inclusions in magnetite and iron oxide, and in minor goethite. Values of δ56Fe for magnetite and bulk iron oxide from all five orebodies range from 0.04 to 0.70‰ (avg = 0.29‰, σ = 0.15‰, n = 26). The iron and oxygen isotope data are consistent with a silicate magma source for iron and oxygen in magnetite from all sampled El Laco orebodies. Oxygen (δ18O Δ +4.4 to –10.2‰) and hydrogen (δ 2H ≃ –79.9 to –192.8‰) stable isotope data for bulk iron oxide samples that contain minor goethite from Laco Norte and San Vicente Alto reveal that magnetite has been variably altered to meteoric values, consistent with goethite in equilibrium with local δ18O and δ2H meteoric values of ≃ –15.4 and –211‰, respectively. The H2O contents of iron oxide samples from Laco Norte and San Vicente Alto systematically increase with increasing abundance of goethite and decreasing values of δ18O and δ2H. The values of δ2H (≃ –88 to –140‰) and δ18O (3.0–4.5‰) for magnetite samples from Cristales Grandes, Laco Sur, and Rodados Negros are consistent with growth of magnetite from a degassing silicate melt and/or a boiling magmatic-hydrothermal fluid; the latter is also consistent with δ18O values for quartz, and salinities and homogenization temperatures for fluid inclusions trapped in apatite and clinopyroxene coeval with magnetite. The sum of the data unequivocally fingerprint a silicate magma as the source of the ore fluids responsible for mineralization at El Laco and are consistent with a model that explains mineralization as the synergistic result of common magmatic and magmatic-hydrothermal processes during the evolution of a caldera-related explosive volcanic system.« less
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