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Rare earth element deposits in China

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Abstract

China is the world’s leading rare earth element (REE) producer and hosts a variety of deposit types. Carbonatite- related REE deposits, the most significant deposit type, include two giant deposits presently being mined in China, Bayan Obo and Maoniuping, the first and third largest deposits of this type in the world, respectively. The carbonatite-related deposits host the majority of China’s REE resource and are the primary supplier of the world’s light REE. The REE-bearing clay deposits, or ion adsorption-type deposits, are second in importance and are the main source in China for heavy REE resources. Other REE resources include those within monazite or xenotime placers, beach placers, alkaline granites, pegmatites, and hydrothermal veins, as well as some additional deposit types in which REE are recovered as by-products.

Carbonatite-related REE deposits in China occur along craton margins, both in rifts (e.g., Bayan Obo) and in reactivated transpressional margins (e.g., Maoniuping). They comprise those along the northern, eastern, and southern margins of the North China block, and along the western margin of the Yangtze block. Major structural features along the craton margins provide first-order controls for REE-related Proterozoic to Cenozoic carbonatite alkaline complexes; these are emplaced in continental margin rifts or strike-slip faults.

The ion adsorption-type REE deposits, mainly situated in the South China block, are genetically linked to the weathering of granite and, less commonly, volcanic rocks and lamprophyres. Indosinian (early Mesozoic) and Yanshanian (late Mesozoic) granites are the most important parent rocks for these REE deposits, although Caledonian (early Paleozoic) granites are also of local importance. The primary REE enrichment is hosted in various mineral phases in the igneous rocks and, during the weathering process, the REE are released and adsorbed by clay minerals in the weathering profile. Currently, these REE-rich clays are primarily mined from open-pit operations in southern China.

The complex geologic evolution of China’s Precambrian blocks, particularly the long-term subduction of ocean crust below the North and South China blocks, enabled recycling of REE-rich pelagic sediments into mantle lithosphere. This resulted in the REE-enriched nature of the mantle below the Precambrian cratons, which were reactivated and thus essentially decratonized during various tectonic episodes throughout the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic. Deep fault zones within and along the edges of the blocks, including continental rifts and strike-slip faults, provided pathways for upwelling of mantle material.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Rare earth element deposits in China
Volume 18
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Society of Economic Geologists
Contributing office(s) Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
Description 22 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Reviews in Economic Geology
First page 115
Last page 136