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The addition of 144Nd atomic mass to routine ICP-MS analysis as a Quick Screening Tool for Approximating Rare Earth Elements (Q-STAR) in natural waters

January 25, 2024

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a class of critical minerals, all of which can have supply chain vulnerability that impacts economic security. These elements are widely measured in environmental matrices via inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS); however, successful quantification can require time-consuming, sample-specific optimization. While a sample-by-sample approach is appropriate for targeted quantification studies, this approach is not suitable for mineral exploration efforts where rapidly screening thousands of samples for the presence of REEs is desired. Here, we demonstrated the use of a Quick Screening Tool for Approximating REEs (Q-STAR) to detect REEs in surface water and groundwater matrices, collected as part of existing environmental studies. A mass-to-charge ratio of 144 (m/z = 144) was added to an ICP-MS method to screen for REEs in filtered water samples submitted for metals analyses to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Quality Laboratory. We detected the presence of REEs above a reference threshold of 1200 counts per second in 18 % of pre-selected 6626 samples. Using this screened dataset, we mapped estimated dissolved REE concentrations across the United States in relation to ecoregions and underlying geology. Data are constrained to where sample collection took place but nevertheless show estimated aqueous dissolved REE concentrations on a geographic scale that has not yet been studied. To validate Q-STAR, REEs were measured in a USGS standard reference sample, a subset of 88 archived filtered water samples, and in fresh filtered surface water samples. Our targeted analyses demonstrated a strong linear relationship between Q-STAR predicted and measured values in all archived samples for Nd (r2 = 0.94), and light REEs (LREEs) such as lanthanum (La) (r2 = 0.93), praseodymium (Pr) (r2 = 0.94) and samarium (Sm) (r2 = 0.94). Using Q-STAR screen values, nine field sites were identified and surface water samples recollected to confirm the continued presence of Nd and LREEs. Q-STAR can be used to screen an unlimited number of water samples for the presence of REEs prior to time-intensive and costly quantitative analyses and to generate large REE datasets for further investigation.

Publication Year 2024
Title The addition of 144Nd atomic mass to routine ICP-MS analysis as a Quick Screening Tool for Approximating Rare Earth Elements (Q-STAR) in natural waters
DOI 10.1016/j.gexplo.2024.107401
Authors Elizabeth J. Tomaszewski, Zhouming Sun, Anthony J. Bednar
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Geochemical Exploration
Index ID 70251275
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center