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Marine phosphorites as potential resources for heavy rare earth elements and yttrium

September 9, 2016

Marine phosphorites are known to concentrate rare earth elements and yttrium (REY) during early diagenetic formation. Much of the REY data available are decades old and incomplete, and there has not been a systematic study of REY distributions in marine phosphorite deposits that formed over a range of oceanic environments. Consequently, we initiated this study to determine if marine phosphorite deposits found in the global ocean host REY concentrations of high enough grade to be of economic interest. This paper addresses continental-margin (CM) and open-ocean seamount phosphorites. All 75 samples analyzed are composed predominantly of carbonate fluorapatite and minor detrital and authigenic minerals. CM phosphorites have low total REY contents (mean 161 ppm) and high heavy REY (HREY) complements (mean 49%), while seamount phosphorites have 4–6 times higher individual REY contents (except for Ce, which is subequal; mean ΣREY 727 ppm), and very high HREY complements (mean 60%). The predominant causes of higher concentrations and larger HREY complements in seamount phosphorites compared to CM phosphorites are age, changes in seawater REY concentrations over time, water depth of formation, changes in pH and complexing ligands, and differences in organic carbon content in the depositional environments. Potential ore deposits with high HREY complements, like the marine phosphorites analyzed here, could help supply the HREY needed for high-tech and green-tech applications without creating an oversupply of the LREY.

Publication Year 2016
Title Marine phosphorites as potential resources for heavy rare earth elements and yttrium
DOI 10.3390/min6030088
Authors James R. Hein, Andrea Koschinsky, Mariah Mikesell, Kira Mizell, Craig R. Glenn, Ray Wood
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Minerals
Index ID 70176350
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center