Origin of postcollisional magmas and formation of porphyry Cu deposits in southern Tibet

Rui Wang, Roberto F. Weinberg, William J. Collins, Jeremy P. Richards, Di cheng Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


The recent discovery of large porphyry copper deposits (PCDs) associated with Miocene (22–12 Ma) granitoid magmas in the eastern section of the Paleocene-Eocene Gangdese magmatic arc in the Himalaya-Tibetan orogenic belt raises new questions about the origin of water-rich (≥4.5 wt.%), oxidized (ΔFMQ 1–3) magmas in continental collisional settings and their mineralization potential. We review the literature and compile available data on whole rock and isotope geochemistry for Cenozoic igneous rocks from Tibet, and add new zircon Ce4+/Ce3+ and Ti-in-zircon thermometry data to better understand variations in oxidation state and thermal evolution of these suites, which are key controls on Cu mineralization. Six distinct Cenozoic igneous suites are defined: Paleocene-Eocene syn-collisional Gangdese magmatic arc rocks (ΔFMQ = −1.2 to +0.8) (suite I), and five broadly contemporaneous Miocene suites. A distinct change in magmatism along the length of the belt occurs at around 88°E in the Miocene suites: to the east, porphyry copper mineralization is associated with a moderately oxidized, high-Sr/Y granitoid suite (suite II, ΔFMQ = +0.8 to +2.9) with minor occurrences of transitional (hybrid) monzonitic (suite III) and trachytic rocks (suite IV; both with zircon Ce4+/Ce3+ > 50–100, EuN/EuN* = ~0.5, and ΔFMQ = ~+1 to +2). To the west of 88°E, trachytic volcanic rocks (suite V) are more voluminous but more reduced (zircon Ce4+/Ce3+ < 50, ΔFMQ < +1), and are associated with sparse, poorly mineralized high-Sr/Y granitoids (suite VI) which are moderately oxidized (zircon Ce4+/Ce3+ = 20–100, ΔFMQ = ~+1 to +3). The Miocene high-Sr/Y granitoids have many compositional and isotopic similarities to the Paleocene-Eocene Gangdese arc rocks, and are interpreted to have been derived by melting of the hydrated arc root, with minor mantle input. In contrast, the highly evolved isotopic signatures of the Miocene trachytic rocks, combined with deep seismic profiles and a xenolith-derived geotherm, suggest their derivation from the underthrust Indian Proterozoic subcontinental lithospheric mantle (SCLM) or old fore-arc Tibetan SCLM during phlogopite breakdown at temperatures of ~1100°C. Based on published geophysical data and tectonic reconstructions, we develop a model that explains the origin of the various Miocene magmatic suites, their spatial differences, and the origin of related PCDs. Following the early stages of continental collision (Eocene–Oligocene), shallow underthrusting of the Indian continental lithosphere and subcretion of Tethyan sediments (including oxidized carbonates and possibly evaporites) under eclogite facies conditions promoted the release of aqueous fluids, which hydrated and oxidized the base of the overlying Tibetan plate. This metasomatism rendered the Tibetan lower crust fusible and fertile for metal remobilization. During the mid-Miocene, the Indian slab steepened in the eastern sector (east of ~88°E). In this eastern belt, deeply derived trachytic magmas were trapped in melt zones at the base of the Tibetan crust, and variably mixed with the crustally-derived, high Sr/Y granitoid magmas. They may also have released water that contributed to fluid-fluxed melting of the lower crust, producing voluminous high-Sr/Y granitoid magmas, which were associated with significant PCD mineralization. Hybridization between the trachytic magmas and lower crustal partial melts is indicated by intermediate isotopic compositions, enriched Cr and Ni contents, and high Mg# in some intermediate-to-felsic (56–70 wt. % SiO2) high-Sr/Y granitoids. Trapping of the trachytic melts in deep crustal melt zones explains the relatively small volumes of trachytic magmas erupted at surface in the east. In contrast, to the west of ~88°E, subduction of the Indian plate has remained flat to the present day, preventing incursion of hot asthenosphere. Consequently, cooler conditions in the deep Tibetan lithosphere resulted in limited crustal melting and the production of only small volumes of high-Sr/Y granitic magmas. Trachytic melts ascending from the underthrust Indian or Tibetan plate were able to pass through the cooler lower crust and erupted in greater volume at surface, whereas only small volumes of high-Sr/Y granitoid magma were generated and are not associated with significant PCD mineralization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-143
Number of pages22
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Gangdese
  • High-Sr/Y granitoids
  • Indian subduction geometry
  • Porphyry copper deposits
  • Trachytic magmatism
  • Water-fluxed melting

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