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Porphyry copper assessment of the Tethys region of western and southern Asia: Chapter V in Global mineral resource assessment

November 18, 2015

A probabilistic mineral resource assessment of undiscovered resources in porphyry copper deposits in the Tethys region of western and southern Asia was carried out as part of a global mineral resource assessment led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The purpose of the study was to delineate geographic areas as permissive tracts for the occurrence of porphyry copper deposits at a scale of 1:1,000,000 and to provide probabilistic estimates of amounts of copper likely to be contained in undiscovered porphyry copper deposits in those tracts. The team did the assessment using the USGS three-part form of mineral resource assessment, which is based on (1) mineral deposit and grade-tonnage models constructed from known deposits as analogs for undiscovered deposits, (2) delineation of permissive tracts based on geoscientific information, and (3) estimation of numbers of undiscovered deposits.

The assessment area includes the Asian part of Turkey and Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, western Pakistan, and southwestern Afghanistan. Selected tracts also extend marginally into southwesternmost Russia and northeasternmost Iraq. This region is located in the central part of the larger Tethyan Eurasian Metallogenic Belt, which extends from western Europe to eastern Asia. Mining in this part of the Tethyan Eurasian Metallogenic Belt has occurred for thousands of years; in 2011 the region produced 420,000 metric tons (t) of copper (2.6 percent of global production), 8,300 t of molybdenum (3 percent), and 29,600 kilograms of gold (1 percent).

The assessment team defined 26 tracts permissive for Late Triassic to Holocene porphyry copper-molybdenum and porphyry copper-gold deposits. Permissive tracts range in extent from 2,960 to 194,000 square kilometers (km2) and cover a total area of 924,000 km2. Younger tracts overlap older tracts in several areas. Three permissive tracts include sub-tracts in order to separate tract segments on the basis of geography, data quality, or likelihood of occurrence of undiscovered deposits. About 65 percent of all known porphyry sites occur in only five tracts, which also host most of the identified copper resources. In terms of tectonic setting, 58 percent of the permissive tracts are related to continental arcs; 19 percent to island arcs or back arcs; and 24 percent to postcollisional settings. Of the known porphyry copper deposits, subequal fractions are spread among these three settings.

The spatial distribution of known porphyry deposits and prospects is also related to the level of erosion. Magmatic belts with numerous known porphyry sites exhibit subequal areas of coeval plutonic and volcanic units and lesser amounts of cover rocks. Belts with fewer known porphyry sites display either high or low volcanic-to-plutonic ratios and (or) greater cover, indicating crustal levels that are too shallow or too deep for exposure of porphyry deposits.

Probabilistic estimates of numbers of undiscovered porphyry copper deposits were made for 18 of the 26 tracts. The undiscovered porphyry copper endowment for 8 tracts is discussed qualitatively.

The assessment estimates that the Tethys region contains 47 undiscovered deposits within 1 kilometer of the surface. Probabilistic estimates of numbers of undiscovered deposits were combined with grade and tonnage models in a Monte Carlo simulation to estimate probable amounts of contained metal. The 47 undiscovered deposits are estimated to contain a mean of 180 million metric tons (Mt) of copper distributed among the 18 tracts for which probabilistic estimates were made, in addition to the 62 Mt of copper already identified in the 42 known porphyry deposits in the study area. Results of Monte Carlo simulations show that 80 percent of the estimated undiscovered porphyry copper resources in the Tethys region are located in four tracts or sub-tracts.