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Geologic Characteristics and Exploration Significance of Gold-Rich Porphyry Copper

Deposits in the El Salvador Region, Northern Chile
Sergio L. Rivera, Toms Vila, and Jorge Osorio
CODELCO-CHILE. Hurfanos 1270, Santiago, Chile (

The porphyry copper systems of the El Salvador region, represented mainly by El Salvador, Potrerillos,
Exploradora, Sierra Jardn and Coya, are located in the southern portion of the Late Eocene Early Oligocene
Porphyry Copper Belt of northern Chile. They have distinctively higher gold (>0.1 to 0.5 g/t) and lower molybdenum
grades (<10 ppm) than those systems located in the northernmost part of the belt. The El Salvador and Potrerillos
deposits each contain resources >300 Mt at >0.5% Cu and up to 0.1-0.2 g/t Au. The Exploradora Cu-Au porphyry
prospect contains geologic resources of ~100 Mt at 0.3% Cu and 0.2 g/t Au, with an upper, gold-enriched, leached
capping zone averaging ~0.5 g/t. The Sierra Jardn and Coya prospects show the lowest Cu contents and Au grades
in the 0.1 to 0.5-g/t range.
The deposits are related to discrete magmatic pulses emplaced in different lithotectonic environments, including the
borders of Paleocene, caldera-like volcanic structures (El Salvador and Sierra Jardn; 45-40 Ma), dilational jogs
(Exploradora), and reverse and transfer faults (Potrerillos and Coya, respectively) with ages between 37 and 31 Ma.
Host rocks are mainly volcanic and marine sedimentary rocks of Jurassic-Lower Cretaceous age.
The salient geological features of these deposits are: minor differentiation of several, sintectonic intrusive pulses;
intense superposition (telescoping) of intrusion and alteration-mineralisation phases; development of early,
magnetite-rich, potassic alteration-mineralisation events; moderately- to weakly-developed sericitic alteration; and
late stages of collapsed advanced argillic alteration along with post-mineral phreatomagmatic activity,
characterized by pebble-dykes and/or diatreme breccias.
The range in the composition of productive porphyries, between granodiorite and tonalite; their broadly similar age;
their various structural settings; and the differences in Cu/Au ratios and Mo contents even at the cluster scale,
suggest that the metal budget in each case may have been controlled by specific cooling conditions. Moreover, the
abundance of gold-rich porphyries (as opposed to their gold-poor counterparts) discovered during the past ten years
in the Chilean Andes, implies that the geologic conditions for the formation of gold-rich porphyry copper systems
have been far more favorable than previously considered. Several key characteristics of gold-rich porphyry copper
deposits of the El Salvador region can be used as exploration guidelines and open new ground for prospecting.
Additional discoveries will certainly help to fill metallogenic gaps in the previously defined porphyry belts of
northern Chile.

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