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Electron microprobe geochemistry of apatite crystals in the iron oxide-apatite ores of the Adirondack Mountains, New York, 2016-2017

March 26, 2019

The iron oxide-apatite (IOA) deposits near Mineville in the Adirondack Mountains, New York, have been of interest for their rich magnetite ore since the mid-1700s but have attracted renewed attention due to their potential as rare earth element (REE) resources (McKeown and Klemic, 1956; Lupulescu and others, 2016; Taylor and others, 2018). Apatite is the main REE-host and is found in variable concentrations within ore seams of the regional magnetite deposits. Some apatite crystals are unaltered, relatively homogenous, and inclusion-free, whereas other deposits contain heterogenous apatite with zones of abundant secondary mineral inclusions that were formed through metasomatic reactions with the apatite after initial precipitation. The heterogeneous apatite crystals may have inclusion-free bright zones and intermediate zones in back-scattered electron imagery (BSE), and dark BSE zones that contain inclusions of monazite and thorite.

Apatite crystals from twenty-seven samples, including twenty-four ore and three rock samples from a total of nineteen different ore deposits, were analyzed by electron microprobe to obtain their major and minor element geochemistry. Additionally, some magmatic apatite crystals from the ore-hosting Lyon Mountain Granite Gneiss were analyzed for comparison with the ore apatite. The electron microprobe data was collected by personnel of the Southwest Region Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center in Denver, Colorado, for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Resources Program (MRP). A JEOL 8900 Electron Microprobe with five wavelength dispersive analyzers operated at 20keV accelerating voltage, a 50-nA current (measured on the Faraday cup), and an electron beam diameter of 10 micrometers was utilized.

All analyzed crystals are considered fluorapatite, with fluorine contents ranging from approximately 3.5 to 6.6%. Some apatite crystals from ore contain greater than 15% total REE, whereas some others contain less than 1%. Commonly, Y, La, Ce, and Nd are the most abundant REE in the apatite crystals. The magmatic apatite crystals are notably purer with low contents of actinides, REE, and other common minor impurities. Analyses that contained total elemental weight percentages between 97% to 103% were accepted; those analyses with poor totals falling outside of this range were rejected.

The different zones within heterogeneous apatite crystals contained lower concentrations of REE and other minor element components in the dark BSE zones than in the bright BSE zones, but both zones had nearly parallel REE profiles. The zones of differing BSE brightness are interpreted to be caused by metasomatic alteration. Although the REE profiles were consistent for a given sample, variations in total REE content and overall chemistry were noted between different deposits and even different ore seams within a given deposit.