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Geochemical and mineralogical study of the Red Mountain porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit and vicinity, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

March 18, 2020

The Red Mountain porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit (Cu-Mo deposit or PCD) is located in the northern part of the Patagonia Mountains, Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Extensive core drilling has delineated a large, deep-seated, structurally intact mineral system that extends from the present surface to depths of more than 1,765 meters. This system is hosted in a thick complex of predominantly felsic to andesitic volcanic rocks of the Cretaceous Period. This complex was intruded by scattered bodies of the Tertiary Period that are predominantly quartz monzonite porphyry; no major associated source intrusion has yet been found at depth.

A total of 818 samples of core were analyzed for as many as 44 elements. The abundances and distributions at depth of at least 17 of these elements (silver [Ag], arsenic [As], gold [Au], boron [B], bismuth [Bi], copper [Cu], mercury [Hg], potassium [K], molybdenum [Mo], lead [Pb], sulfur [S], antimony [Sb], tin [Sn], tellurium [Te], thallium [Tl], tungsten [W], and zinc [Zn]) are related mostly to events that generated the Red Mountain system. Many of these same samples were also analyzed by X-ray diffraction for a suite of minerals. The multielement and mineralogical analyses of the core samples provide important information about the concentrations, associations, and distributions of select elements and minerals, including zoning patterns that may not be apparent from visual examination of core samples. The distributions of selected elements and minerals in these samples reveal an unusually complete mineral system that extends from a typical PCD with potassic alteration at depth to peripheral zones of phyllic and advanced argillic alteration as well as a copper-rich supergene enriched zone and the remnants of a leached cap.

R-mode factor analysis was run with 34 elements for a set of samples from the deep part of the hypogene Cu-Mo deposit and another set from the part of the supergene zone with the highest copper enrichment. For the hypogene zone dataset, five factors are related to the PCD: (1) Ag, Cu, Mo, S, and Te; (2) As, B, Hg, and Sb; (3) Au and sodium (Na); (4) manganese (Mn), Pb, and Zn; and (5) K and Tl. For the supergene dataset, the deposit-related factors include (1) Cu, Mo, S, and Te; (2) Ag, As, Hg, Pb, Sb, and Tl; (3) Au and Na; and (4) K and rubidium (Rb). The changes in element associations between the two datasets indicate that some of these new associations are a result of formation of several suites of hypogene minerals in the deep part of the deposit and different hypogene mineral suites in the peripheral part of the deposit. Some changes may be because of the effects of supergene processes.

Zones containing deposit-related elements and minerals common to many PCDs are present at Red Mountain. These zones include a crude, inverted cup-shaped shell containing anomalous copper accompanied by high concentrations of Ag, Au, K, Mo, total S, sulfate S, Sb, Te, and Tl, as well as local concentrations of As, B, Hg, Pb, and Zn. Hydrothermal minerals spatially associated with the deep hypogene Cu-Mo deposit include chalcopyrite, molybdenite, pyrite, plagioclase, orthoclase, biotite, magnetite, calcite, quartz, and anhydrite.

Many of the hydrothermally deposited elements that are spatially related to the deposit are also concentrated in zones above the deep part of the deposit, including Ag, As, K, Pb, Sb, Te, Tl, and Zn. These elements are concentrated either (1) in generally wide, flat zones present in the upper part of the system or (2) in crudely arcuate peripheral zones found mainly in the middle part of the system and surrounding the deep part of the deposit. Near-surface, restricted hypogene anomalies are present for bismuth, mercury, tin, and tungsten.

The upper part of the deposit has been subjected to supergene enrichment and weathering. Deposit-related elements that remain anomalous in this area include Ag, As, Au, B, Bi, cobalt (Co), Cu, Hg, Mo, Pb, S, Sb, Sn, Te, Tl, uranium (U), and W. These positive concentrations indicate that, with the exception of copper and possibly mercury and uranium, these elements had relatively low chemical mobilities in the supergene enrichment and later weathering environments at Red Mountain. Most may have been deposited during one or more hypogene events and then redistributed locally during later events. Zinc is the only deposit-related element that has clearly been depleted as a result of supergene and (or) weathering events. Minerals that are common in the unweathered upper part of the system include chalcocite, pyrite, quartz, sericite, alunite, and pyrophyllite, as well as less common covellite, enargite, tennantite, tourmaline, barite, anglesite, and other sulfide or sulfate minerals.

Subsequent to formation of the Red Mountain Cu-Mo deposit and supergene enrichment, chemical weathering produced an area of pervasive hematite and other iron oxides in the near-surface part of the deposit to form a leached cap. These iron-rich minerals formed primarily as a result of the oxidation of pyrite. This event was accompanied by losses of cobalt, mercury, magnesium, and zinc, as well as destruction of sericite, plagioclase, pyrite, clay minerals, and pyrophyllite.

A total of 122 rock samples, 119 soil samples, and samples of three plant species (57 mesquite, 108 oak, and 68 juniper) were collected over and around Red Mountain. For the rock and soil samples, the distributions of anomalous Ag, As, Bi, Cu, Fe, Mo, Pb, Sb, Te, and Tl best delineated the exposed part of the deposit. The highest concentrations of many of these elements are centered on one or both of two main areas with exposures of quartz monzonite porphyry. The high concentrations of arsenic in the deposit area (as much as 390 parts per million (ppm) in rock and 1,500 ppm in soil) and of lead (as much as 2,370 ppm in rock and 1,490 ppm in soil) are particularly noteworthy.

The concentrations of various elements in the plant ash vary widely among the three species and are species dependent. Many of the deposit-related elements are either nonessential for plant growth or are considered toxic at certain concentration ranges. In spite of this, the distributions of potentially toxic Ag, As, Bi, Cd, Cu, Mo, Pb, Sb, selenium (Se), and Zn produce deposit-related anomalies for one or more of the three species.

Vegetation sampling offered no advantage over rock or soil sampling as an exploration tool. From an environmental standpoint, however, the plant analyses provide baseline data for both essential and nonessential elements that might be useful, for example, for selecting native plant species for revegetating mine waste areas.

The exposed part of the Red Mountain deposit has not been greatly disturbed as a result of mining and other activities. However, some of the rock, soil, and plant samples that were collected near the Harshaw Creek and Alum Gulch drainages, which are peripheral to Red Mountain, are also anomalous for various deposit-related elements. These anomalies are probably the result of dispersion of stream sediments contaminated with material from past mining.

Publication Year 2020
Title Geochemical and mineralogical study of the Red Mountain porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit and vicinity, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
DOI 10.3133/sir20195077
Authors Maurice Chaffee
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5077
Index ID sir20195077
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center