About 200 known coastal deposits of heavy mineral sands (HMS) occur in China, in which considerable mineral resources of titanium, zircon, rare earth elements, and thorium exist in the forms of ilmenite, rutile, zircon, and monazite. More than 20 of these HMS deposits are reported as having been or are actively being mined in China during the past three decades, of which 12 have been reported to have industrial resources. Commercially important deposits occur almost entirely in Cenozoic beach and sand dune deposits, principally along China’s eastern coast (e.g., Shandong Province) and southern coast (e.g., Guangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, and Fujian provinces), and particularly on Hainan island. There are also important deposits of HMS along coastal areas of Taiwan. China has the largest share of the world’s economic ilmenite resources in HMS deposits (31%).
A variety of igneous and associated metamorphic rocks along the coastal areas of China provided an abundant source of heavy minerals for the formation of the HMS occurrences. Studies of titanium-rich HMS deposits have shown that ilmenite is mostly sourced from igneous rocks. For example, 40% of the bedrock of Hainan island consists of Triassic and Cretaceous granites emplaced into rocks of the Cathyasia Block, and all of the HMS districts on the island lie no more than 15 km downstream from a Middle Triassic suite of syenite to granite intrusions. The southern coastal regions of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces are dominated by Jurassic granodiorite, biotite granite, two-mica granite, and A-type granite, with minor gabbro and syenite. Identified accessory minerals in the Jurassic alkaline granitoids include zircon, apatite, allanite, titanite, magnetite, ilmenite, monazite, and niobite. Thus, multiple plutons are in proximity to the Cenozoic coastal plain and are available as bedrock sources for the detrital titanium minerals, zircon, and monazite.
More than 100 HMS deposits and prospects have been identified in Shandong Province, consisting of more than 20 varieties of heavy minerals in quartz sand, which include zircon, ilmenite, rutile, monazite, magnetite, xenotime, and gold (in general order of abundance) derived from Precambrian metamorphic basement and Mesozoic intrusions. Of these minerals, zircon, magnetite, gold, and quartz sand have economic significance. The quartz sands are used by the glass and construction industries. The placers mainly occur in and adjacent to the littoral zones of the northern and southern coasts of the Jiaodong Peninsula in Shandong province. Seven beach placer, HMS prospective areas have been delineated in coastal areas of the peninsula.
Due to nearly exhausted placer reserves in the Chinese coastal zones, as well as increased environmental restrictions, future prospecting for heavy minerals will likely focus on ancient beach systems in China’s inland sedimentary basins. Also, offshore deposits of HMS in shallow coastal waters are other potential sources of heavy minerals, such as the Baoding Sea zircon-titanium, minerals-rich placer under development near Wanning on Hainan. Similarly, there is potential for offshore HMS deposits in shallow waters of the entire coastal area of southern Taiwan that remains to be fully evaluated. Reconnaissance sampling along Taiwan island’s coasts has revealed the potential for extensive, high-grade HMS accumulations nearshore.