Porphyry Cu and Mo deposits and occurrences are found throughout Alaska; they formed episodically during repeated subduction and arc-continent collisions spanning the Silurian to Quaternary. Porphyry systems occur in continental-margin and island arcs, which are broadly grouped into pre-accretionary or post-accretionary arcs. Pre-Mesozoic occurrences formed in continental or island arcs prior to accretion onto the margin of North America, whereas Mesozoic and younger systems formed in arcs that developed after terrane fragments were accreted to the margin of North America. As a result, older porphyry systems are typically in the interior and northern metallogenic belts, whereas the younger porphyry systems are predominantly found in the southern third of the state, closer to the modern continental margin.
Alaska porphyry formation peaked in the mid-Cretaceous and continued through the Late Cretaceous to Tertiary, in association with continental-margin arcs extending from the eastern interior, into southwest Alaska and along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. Porphyry system formation is not generally recognized in the Early Cretaceous, Triassic, or early Paleozoic – time periods that coincide with continental collisional events or extension. Relatively few pre-accretionary porphyry systems are documented in more deeply exhumed arc segments due to low preservation potential in areas of rapid or repeated bedrock uplift and associated erosion that occurred during later tectonic events.
Significant diversity is observed in porphyry occurrences across the state and even within the same region. Occurrences form in association with arc-related intrusions or intrusive complexes, that range in composition from diorite to syenite, but are commonly monzonitic to granitic. Some porphyry occurrences are associated with alkaline intrusive belts that exhibit a stronger crustal contribution to magmatic sources. Intrusions associated with porphyry formation in Alaska are commonly moderately oxidized, however, a distinct group of porphyry systems are associated with more-reduced magmas.
Hydrothermal alteration described at many occurrences exhibits zoning from proximal potassic alteration to typically peripheral and(or) later sericitic alteration, that is flanked by large zones of propylitic alteration. Diversity in alteration is observed where sodic and sodic-calcic alteration is present, commonly in more-enigmatic deposits, such as Island Mountain and Chicken Mountain. Advanced argillic alteration is rare, but present in notable examples, such as the Pebble porphyry Cu(-Au-Mo) deposit. Sulfide mineralization is characterized by pyrite, chalcopyrite, molybdenite, and rare bornite hosted in veinlets, veins and disseminations in wallrocks and causative intrusions. Some porphyry systems contain abundant pyrrhotite and(or) arsenopyrite in the mineral assemblages. Systems that exhibit bornite-bearing assemblages containing abundant molybdenite are commonly arsenic- and gold-poor and tend to be associated with more oxidized arc magmas. In contrast, those systems that are pyrrhotite and(or) arsenopyrite dominant tend to be gold, arsenic, and bismuth bearing, and are commonly associated with more-reduced magmas.
Exploration for porphyry occurrences in Alaska has experienced a resurgence and currently constitutes about 20% of exploration dollars in the state. Many systems lack complete descriptions, and coupled with the cost of exploration, remain incompletely explored. Additional understanding of known occurrences combined with a framework geologic understanding of porphyry-bearing metallogenic belts will likely result in new discoveries in the future.