Supergene enrichment and mass balance analysis in the Milpillas porphyry cooper deposit, Cananea District, Sonora, Mexico
Milpillas is a porphyry copper deposit with supergene enrichment located in the Sonora-Arizona- New Mexico metallogenic province, which is characterized by low-grade (0.1–0.15% Cu) hypogene copper mineralization associated with the emplacement of Laramide plutons. The post-Laramide extensional tectonics promoted a rapid exposure of the hypogene mineralized zones to the weathering environment. This favored the development of outstanding leached caps and formation of supergene enriched chalcocite blankets at the base of the oxidized zones. The supergene ore zone occurs at depth under a postmineral column and a leached cap, which jointly accumulate from 150 to 700 m of vertical extent. This zone was preserved due to subsidence and burial by gravels of the Cuitaca Norte semigraben, a regional basin structure typical of the Basin and Range province. The dominant supergene alteration is characterized by pervasive clays, which overprint an earlier intense hypogene alteration. The latter was initially of potassic-propylitic nature, followed by moderate to strong phyllic and argillic phases, overlapping the earlier alteration. These mineral assemblages constitute a poor or non-reactive gangue with supergene acid solutions, which facilitated the development of the thick, zoned leached cap and secondary copper concentration. The supergene mineralization is characterized by chalcocite and minor covellite, as well as their oxidized counterparts in the upper portions of the chalcocite blankets, which are typically replaced by copper sulphates and accessory copper carbonates. The leached cap is of the hematitic type, characterized by limonitic iron oxides and kaolinite. This mass balance study allowed reconstruction of the original geometry of the hypogene system, which is incomplete to the southeast because it is possibly interrupted and displaced along the Milpillas Oeste fault. The estimation of the total heights of the original leached column and the eroded leached column, were used to determine the zones where Cu was accumulated and those where it was lost. The results show a negative copper balance, which supports the possible occurrence of exotic copper concentration adjacent to the main ore deposit.