Efflorescent crusts at the Eagle Borax spring in Death Valley, California, contain an array of rare Mg and K borate minerals, several of which are only known from one or two other localities. The Mg- and/or K-bearing borates include aristarainite, hydroboracite, kaliborite, mcallisterite, pinnoite, rivadavite, and santite. Ulexite and probertite also occur in the area, although their distribution is different from that of the Mg and K borates. Other evaporite minerals in the spring vicinity include halite, thenardite, eugsterite, gypsum-anhydrite, hexahydrite, and bloedite. Whereas the first five of these minerals are found throughout Death Valley, the last two Mg sulfates are more restricted in occurrence and are indicative of Mg-enriched ground water. Mineral associations observed at the Eagle Borax spring, and at many other borate deposits worldwide, can be explained by the chemical fractionation of borate-precipitating waters during the course of evaporative concentration. The Mg sulfate and Mg borate minerals in the Eagle Borax efflorescent crusts point to the fractionation of Ca by the operation of a chemical divide involving Ca carbonate and Na-Ca borate precipitation in the subsurface sediments. At many other borate mining localities, the occurrence of ulexite in both Na borate (borax-kernite) and Ca borate (ulexite-colemanite) deposits similarly reflects ulexite's coprecipitation with Ca carbonate at an early concentration stage. Such ulexite may perhaps be converted to colemanite by later reaction with the coexisting Ca carbonate - the latter providing the additional Ca2+ ions needed for the conversion. Mg and Ca-Mg borates are the expected late-stage concentration products of waters forming ulexite-colemanite deposits and are therefore most likely to occur in the marginal zones or nearby mud facies of ulexite-colemanite orebodies. Under some circumstances, Mg and Ca-Mg borates might provide a useful prospecting guide for ulexite-colemanite deposits, although the high solubility of Mg borate minerals may prevent their formation in lacustrine settings and certainly inhibits their geologic preservation. The occurrence of Mg borates in borax-kernite deposits is also related to fractionation processes and points to the operation of an Mg borate chemical divide, characterized by Mg borate precipitation ahead of Mg carbonate. All of these considerations imply that Mg is a significant chemical component of many borate-depositing ground waters, even though Mg borate minerals may not be strongly evident in borate orebodies. The Eagle Borax spring borates and other evaporite minerals were studied using spectroscopic and X-ray powder diffraction methods, which were found to be highly complementary. Spectral reflectance measurements provide a sensitive means for detecting borates present in mixtures with other evaporites and can be used to screen samples rapidly for X-ray diffraction analysis. The apparently limited occurrence of Mg and K borate minerals compared to Ca and Na borates may stem partly from the inefficiency of X-ray diffraction methods for delineating the mineralogy of large and complex deposits. Spectral reflectance measurements can be made in the laboratory, in the field, on the mine face, and even remotely. Reflectance data should have an important role in studies of existing deposit mineralogy and related chemical fractionation processes, and perhaps in the discovery of new borate mineral resources.
Additional publication details
Mg- and K-bearing borates and associated evaporites at Eagle Borax spring, Death Valley, California: A spectroscopic exploration