Geochemistry of Rare Earth Elements in Carbonatites

Date & time

4pm 15 May 2018


Jaeger 1 Seminar Room, RSES


James Tolley (RSES)

Event series


 Antony Burnham

The geochemical behaviour of rare earth elements (REE) was investigated through the study of both natural and experimental carbonatites. The Cummins Range Carbonatite Complex (CRCC) lies on the southern margin of the Kimberley Craton in northern Western Australia and comprises a sub-vertical stock, ~2 km in diameter, with a central calcite-dolomite carbonatite plug mantled by variably metasomatised pyroxenite. Geochemical characterisation of the complex suggests a petrogenetic model in which a carbonated silicate magma, highly enriched in incompatible trace elements, was emplaced at <1100°C at relatively shallow depth. Crystallisation and fractionation of HFSE and REE from the initial liquid formed a pyroxenite containing the accessory phases zirconolite and perovskite. The carbonatite segregated from the evolving carbonated silicate magma crystallising REE-rich pyrochlore and primary carbonates. Both the pyroxenite and carbonatite show similar LREE-enrichments despite their contrasting mineralogy.

Apatite, a common phase in the CRCC, is major host of the REE (ΣREE = 4950-6080 ppm) and is characterised by strong LREE-enriched patterns in both the pyroxenite and carbonatite units. Trace-element doped synthetic (F- and Cl-) apatites were crystallised in equilibrium with carbonatite melt as function of temperature (1150-1350 °C), pressure (10-30 kbar), and melt composition. Partition coefficients of trivalent cations (REE and Y) were fit to lattice strain models and a general equation derived relating partitioning to pressure and temperature. DREE increase with 1) increasing temperature, 2) decreasing pressure and are greater in F-apatite compared to Cl-apatite. Importantly, despite the addition of charge compensating species, in all experiments the REE apatite/carbonate partition coefficients remain ~1, demonstrating that the fractional crystallisation of apatite will not enrich a carbonate melt in REE.

REE distribution within the CRCC is strongly influenced by the crystallisation of the accessory phases zirconolite and perovskite in the pyroxenite and pyrochlore in the carbonatite. These phases contain ~5-10 wt.% REE. Despite their petrogenetic importance partitioning studies of such accessory phases are limited, often because of experimental difficulties. Magnetite is a common accessory mineral for which the REE partition coefficients have not been determined. Adopting a new experimental technique of equilibrating a single crystal of magnetite with a silicate melt reservoir, concentration profiles radiating from the magnetite-melt interface can be measured using an orientated laser beam and scanning LA-ICP-MS. Modelling these profiles using the diffusion equation enables diffusion coefficients and, for the first time, partition coefficients for all the REE and Y between magnetite and silicate melt to be determined.


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