Zirconium and hafnium in the southeastern Atlantic States

Bulletin 1082-A




The principal source of zirconium and hafnium is zircon, though a minor source is baddeleyite, mined only in Brazil. Zircon is an accessory mineral in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, but rarely occurs in hardrock in minable quantities. The principal sources of zircon are therefore alluvial deposits, which are mined in many countries of five continents. The principal commercial deposits in the United States are in Florida, though others exist elsewhere in the southeastern Coastal Plain.

The evidence indicates that conditions for the accumulation of workable deposits of heavy minerals were more favorable during the interglacial stages of the Pleistocene epoch than during Recent time. Therefore detrital ores of large volume and high tenor are more likely to be found in the terrace deposits than along the present beaches. Other concentrations of heavy minerals, however, are possible at favored sites close to the Fall Line where the Tuscaloosa formation rests upon the crystalline rocks of the Piedmont province.

A score of heavy and semiheavy minerals occur in the detrital deposits of Florida, but the principal salable minerals are ilmenite, leucoxene, rutile, and zircon, though monazite and staurolite are saved at some mining plants. Commercial deposits of heavy minerals are generally required to have a tenor of 4 percent, though ores with a lower tenor can be mined at a profit if the content of monazite is notably high. The percentages of zircon in the concentrates ranges from 10 to 16 percent, and in eastern Florida from 13 to 15 percent. Thus the tenor in zircon of the ore-bearing sands ranges from 0.4 to 0.6 percent.

The content of hafnium in zircon is immaterial for many uses, but for some purposes very high or very low tenors in hafnium are required. Alluvial zircon cannot be separated into such varieties, which, if needed, must be obtained from sources in bedrock. It thus becomes necessary to determine the Hf : Zr ratios in zircon from many kinds of bedrock.

Granitic rocks are the principal sources of zircon, though not the best sources of zircon with a high tenor in hafnium. A general study by the Geological Survey of the granitic rocks of the Southeastern Atlantic States has been in progress for 10 years, and hundreds of samples of granitic accessory minerals have been acquired. Thirty samples of zircon from these collections were selected for spectrographic and X-ray determinations of their tenors in hafnium. Nine other samples of alluvial zircon were included, of which three are from Florida and six from foreign countries. No domestic zircon was discovered with very high or very low tenors in hafnium.

The volume of zircon in the southeastern Coastal Plain is enormous, but most of it is not recoverable. The minable reserves of heavy minerals, however, are very large, and from these it is estimated conservatively that 10 million short tons of zircon can be obtained. The corresponding amounts of zirconium and hafnium, using the mean Hf:Zr ratio of the deposits in Florida, are 4,868,000 and 112,000 tons, respectively. These reserves could be delivered, if needed, at the rate of 100,000 tons a year.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
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USGS Numbered Series
Zirconium and hafnium in the southeastern Atlantic States
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U.S. Government Printing Office
28 p.
Larger Work Type:
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USGS Numbered Series
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Contributions to economic geology, 1958
United States
Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia