From arc magmas to ores (FAMOS): A mineral systems approach

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Earth Sciences


Society is dependent on a reliable supply of metals and minerals for economic growth, improved standards of living, and development of infrastructure. Population growth means that even with increased recycling and resource efficiency, new mineral deposits still need to be discovered. The efficient exploration for, and discovery of, new resources requires new concepts and new tools.
The Mineral Systems approach to exploration considers ore deposits on a lithospheric scale, in terms of the "ingredients", processes and environments that favour their formation. This approach amounts to a "source-pathway-trap" model, with an increased emphasis on predictive capacity, rather than just feature recognition. Historically, much research has focused on the trap, and characterisation of the ore deposits themselves; here we aim to focus deeper in the system by integrating ore deposit formation with concepts of magmatism that arise from igneous petrology and volcanology. Therein lies a challenge because extant models for porphyry systems are increasingly at odds with magmatic models for crustal construction and arc volcanism. Rather than seeing magmatic systems in terms of large, liquid-rich magma chambers, emerging petrological models for crustal magmatism are turning instead to crystal-dominated, volatile-bearing "mushy" systems that traverse most or all of the crust. The dynamics of such systems have important consequences not just for arc magmatism, but also for the chemistry of the volatiles that are exsolved. These same volatiles fuel mineralisation and this is the synergy that we aim to exploit by assembling a multidisciplinary team of researchers from economic geology, igneous and metamorphic petrology, volcanology, geochemistry, numerical modelling and fluid dynamics. Our team embraces almost everyone currently engaged in porphyry mineralisation research in the UK and capitalises on strong existing links between UK ROs and the mining industry, many of who are Project Partners.
The research will involve analysis of minerals from a wide variety of mineralised and barren settings using a wealth of modern analytical tools that enable determination of an extensive suite of trace elements and isotope tracers. As each trace element responds to magmatic processes in subtly different ways due to the affinity of different elements for different phases (minerals, melts and fluids), so the multi-element approach affords many advantages over conventional proxies in which the full potential of the Periodic Table is not exploited. The analysis of natural systems will be underpinned by high pressure and temperature experiments to establish the phase relationships of ascending arc magmas and the partition coefficients that capture the affinities of elements for certain phases. As fluid accumulation and migration is an essential, but poorly understood, final step in ore deposit formation, we will develop, in tandem with the geochemistry, numerical models for fluid-bearing mushy systems. Finally, consideration will be given to critical metals that are passengers through the main ore-forming processes, but constitute important, often under-explored, by-products of porphyry mineralisation.
The research proposed has a strong element of blue skies investigation, but a particular focus on outcomes that will benefit industry through improved exploration tools. Thus the project bridges the divide between academic and applied research in a way that is not normally possible through industry-funded projects. This bridging activity lies at the heart of the Highlight Topic call, specifically through the integration of new advances in the study of mineral systems, igneous petrology and geochemistry, with a view to identifying conditions that can act as pathfinders for new targets. A key outcome will be a range of trace element proxies that will enable the mining industry to establish the potential fertility of a magmatic arc on local to regional scales.

Planned Impact

We have taken an "embedded impact" approach with FAMOS. Stakeholders and beneficiaries have been involved with the development of the project from its initiation (including the initial Highlight Topic suggestion). The scientific content of the proposal was developed in discussion with representatives from industry, and the final consortium has assembled an Advisory Board that includes industry representatives so as to maintain two-way knowledge exchange and ensure development of impact. We have also engaged an international set of project partners (PP) who will extend the reach of our impact (see letters of support). The embedded impact will be delivered through various activities to support outreach, engagement and dissemination.

The key impact goal for FAMOS is to improve discovery rates of porphyry deposits by aiding exploration under cover, influencing decision making in the exploration process, reducing exploration risk and reducing the environmental impacts of drilling and associated disruptive fieldwork through more efficient prospectivity assessment.

There are four impact objectives within FAMOS:

1) A revised Mineral Systems model of porphyry deposit formation. This will lead to improved targeting at regional and igneous complex scales and better inputs to national strategies on mineral resources. Beneficiaries include PRIVATE SECTOR COMPANIES involved in mining, exploration and consultancy (e.g. PPs Anglo American, Rio Tinto, BHPBilliton, Freeport McMoRan), and NATIONAL AGENCIES charged with encouraging exploration and developing strategic resources (e.g. BGS and PP USGS).

2) New proxies for porphyry fertility. This will provide low-cost tools and approaches that will support improved decision-making during exploration. By using multiple proxies within a single sample, more data-rich exploration is possible, and in turn less sampling is required and less environmental impact is caused. Beneficiaries will include PRIVATE SECTOR COMPANIES involved in exploration, consultancy, and the provision of data and analytical equipment to industry (i.e. service companies, e.g. see PPs Olympus, Zeiss and SRK ES letters of support).

3) E-tech elements in porphyries. We will generate vital data for better global and national e-tech resource estimation. This facilitates improved targeting for specific e-techs during exploration, and improved metallurgical characterisation of them. Beneficiaries will be GOVERNMENT AGENCIES who advise on resource strategy (e.g. BGS, PP USGS), and POLICY MAKERS IN GOVERNMENT planning future clean energy strategies. PRIVATE SECTOR COMPANIES exploring for resources (see PP Anglo American letter of support) and end-users of e-techs will benefit through improved strategic knowledge of future supplies and the WIDER PUBLIC will gain through support of sustainable environmental technologies for a low-carbon society.

4) Outreach, education and training. We have planned activities to increase public understanding of resource issues (discovery, depletion, environmental and social impacts, the 'e-tech' concept), particularly through NHM outreach, and activities to encourage the uptake of the new model and proxies with professional geoscientists through training workshops, short courses and engagement at high profile conferences. Beneficiaries include the WIDER PUBLIC, PRIVATE SECTOR COMPANIES as publicly traded bodies and employers of skilled professionals and PROFESSIONAL BODIES such as the IOM3 and Mineral Deposits Studies Group (see letter of support) who support training and professional development for their members.


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Afanasyev A (2018) Formation of magmatic brine lenses via focussed fluid-flow beneath volcanoes in Earth and Planetary Science Letters

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Blundy J (2020) Effect of redox on Fe-Mg-Mn exchange between olivine and melt and an oxybarometer for basalts in Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology

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McCarthy A (2020) Taking the pulse of volcanic eruptions using plagioclase glomerocrysts in Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Description The importance of elevated magmatic H2O and chlorine contents in generating porphyry copper deposits has been established through high pressure and temperature experiments
Exploitation Route Our findings form the basis for refined ore exploration tools
Sectors Chemicals

Description The improved understanding of the magmatic architecture of ore-forming systems associated with subduction zones is being used by mining companies to refine their exploration strategy
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Chemicals
Impact Types Economic