The distribution and composition of REE-bearing minerals in placers of the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, USA

Journal of Geochemical Exploration
By: , and 

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Abstract

Rare earth element (REE) resources are currently of great interest because of their importance as raw materials for high-technology manufacturing. The REE-phosphates monazite (light REE enriched) and xenotime (heavy REE enriched) resist weathering and can accumulate in placer deposits as part of the heavy mineral assemblage. The Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains of the southeastern United States are known to host heavy mineral deposits with economic concentrations of zircon, ilmenite and rutile. This study provides a perspective on the distribution and composition of REE phosphate minerals in the region. The elemental chemistry and mineralogy of sands and associated heavy-mineral assemblages from new and archived sediment samples across the coastal plains are examined, along with phase-specific compositions of monazite, xenotime and zircon. Both monazite and xenotime are present across the coastal plains. The phase-specific compositions allow monazite content to be estimated using La as a geochemical proxy. Similarly, both Y and Yb are geochemical proxies for xenotime, but their additional presence in zircon and monazite require a correction to prevent overestimation of xenotime content. Applying this correction, maps of monazite and xenotime content across the coastal plains were generated using sample coverage from the National Geochemical Database (NGS) and National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE). The NGS and NURE approach of sampling stream sediments in small watersheds links samples to nearby lithologies. The results show an approximately 40 km-wide band of primarily Cretaceous, marine sediments bordering the Piedmont province from North Carolina to Alabama in which monazite and xenotime content are relatively high (up to 4.4 wt. % in < 150 μm bulk sediment). Strong correlations between concentrations of the two phases were found, with estimated monazite:xenotime ratios ranging approximately 6:1 to 12:1 depending upon the dataset analyzed. From a resource perspective, xenotime correlation with monazite indicates a heavy REE potential in coastal plain placers, and exploration may be warranted within the identified coastal plain band along the boundary of the Piedmont region.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The distribution and composition of REE-bearing minerals in placers of the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, USA
Series title Journal of Geochemical Exploration
DOI 10.1016/j.gexplo.2015.12.011
Volume 162
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center
Description 12 p.
First page 50
Last page 61
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N