University Of Tasmania

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Assessment of magmatic fertility using pXRF on altered rocks from the Ordovician Macquarie Arc, New South Wales

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 16:41 authored by Wells, TJ, Sebastien MeffreSebastien Meffre, David CookeDavid Cooke, Jeffrey SteadmanJeffrey Steadman, Hoye, JL

This research presents a new method for assessing magmatic fertility using the portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (pXRF) in altered rocks from porphyry terranes. A study of Northparkes and global Cu--Au porphyries highlighted low Zr and Y trends associated with mineralising intrusions. Zircon saturation occurs at low Zr concentrations owing to low-temperature crystallisation depressed by high dissolved H2O in the melt. Yttrium depletion indicates hydrous magmatic conditions that cause hornblende to crystallise early. Previously geochemical differentiation of hydrous, potentially ore-forming (fertile) porphyries has relied on ratios of Sr/Y and Sr/MnO from geochemical and/or pXRF analysis of least altered rocks. Strontium is highly mobile and limits its use in altered terranes. Finding samples in porphyry terranes where Sr can be demonstrated to be retained is difficult given the ubiquity of alteration associated with porphyry emplacement. This precludes the widespread use of pXRF, as quantitative assessment of alteration is beyond the capabilities of pXRF technology. Using immobile elements overcomes issues with alteration and provides more reliable indicators of magmatic fertility. Using a systematic pXRF workflow, plots of Zr vs Y and Zr*Y vs Al2O3/TiO2 were successful in identifying 100% of the mineralising intrusions in the Northparkes intrusive complex and provide an indication of magmatic fertility and a proxy for melt hydration state. The ratios of Zr/Nb vs Y/Nb are insensitive to alteration including weathering and are indicative of evolution and dissolved H2O content of magmatic sources. Moving from bivariate plots to ratio plots shifts the data into a real-number space and provides a linear function to assess against magmatic fertility. Application of the fertility indicators to a regional dataset from New South Wales highlights areas of known porphyry mineralisation indicating that the method has the potential to be a useful indicator of fertility beyond the scope of the pilot study.

Key Points

  1. The fertility of porphyry intrusions is directly related to their dissolved H2O content and oxidation state.
  2. High dissolved H2O content in magmas causes early crystallisation of hornblende, and temperature depression. As a result Zr saturation occurs at low Zr concentrations that results in depletion of Y and the MREE in hydrous rocks compared with normal arc rocks.
  3. Magmatic fertility can be rapidly and cheaply assessed in the field using Zr and Y concentrations from pXRF analyses. The use of immobile elements facilitates magmatic fertility assessment in altered rock, which was previously impossible owing to the use of mobile elements Sr and MnO.


Publication title

Australian Journal of Earth Sciences








School of Natural Sciences


Blackwell Publishing Asia

Place of publication

54 University St, P O Box 378, Carlton, Australia, Victoria, 3053

Rights statement

Copyright 2020 Geological Society of Australia

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Copper ore exploration; Precious (noble) metal ore exploration; Mineral exploration not elsewhere classified