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Petrogenesis and rare earth element mineralization of the Elk Creek carbonatite, Nebraska, USA

June 4, 2022

Although carbonatites are the primary source of the world’s rare earth elements (REEs), the processes responsible for ore-grade REE enrichment in carbonatites are still poorly understood. In this study, we present a petrologic, geochemical, and isotopic evaluation of the Elk Creek carbonatite in southeast Nebraska to constrain the origin of REE mineralization. The Elk Creek carbonatite is a multilithologic carbonatite comprised of an early apatite-dolomite carbonatite, a middle/heavy REE-enriched magnetite-dolomite carbonatite, and a late-stage light REE-enriched, barite-dolomite carbonatite, as well as a suite of breccias. Neodymium, strontium, and carbon isotopic data from the early apatite-dolomite carbonatite, εNd(T) = 2.3 to 3.4, 87Sr/86Sr(i) = 0.702704 to 0.702857, and δ13C = −3.3 to −3.4, indicate that the parental magma and REEs were derived from the mantle, and textural and chemical data suggest that hydrothermal processes played an important role in reaching ore-grade enrichment. Higher initial 87Sr/86Sr values (∼0.7041) of REE-mineralized lithologies are evidence that these fluids were derived, in part, from meteoric water that interacted with the country rock. Modeling of the C-O isotopic data reveals that some of the isotopic variation results from closed-system Rayleigh fractionation of an evolving carbonatitic magma between 300 and 500 °C, but an excursion to heavier δ18O is likely the result of interaction with H2O-CO2-fluids at temperatures from 400 to 100 °C. Hydrothermal dolomite has higher 87Sr/86Sr values than early-formed magmatic dolomite, consistent with metasomatism by fluids derived, in part, from a more radiogenic source such as the Precambrian-age wall rock. Rare earth element mineralization occurs primarily in fine-grained, cavity filling minerals including monazite, bastnäsite, parisite, and synchysite along with barite, dolomite, quartz, and iron oxides. We interpret the LREE enrichment at Elk Creek to be the product of hydrothermal fluids derived from the evolving carbonatite magma and fluids from the wall rock. The REEs likely became enriched in late-stage fluids from the evolving magma as well as being remobilization by the dissolution of earlier formed minerals. Middle/heavy REE-enrichment in the magnetite-dolomite carbonatite is hosted in hydrothermal dolomite and is attributed to variations in the composition of hydrothermal fluids.

Publication Year 2022
Title Petrogenesis and rare earth element mineralization of the Elk Creek carbonatite, Nebraska, USA
DOI 10.1016/j.oregeorev.2022.104953
Authors Philip Verplanck, G. Lang Farmer, Richard M. Kettler, Heather A. Lowers, Craig A. Johnson, Alan E. Koenig, Michael J. Blessington
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ore Geology Reviews
Index ID 70232132
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center; Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center