The minor element endowment of modern sea-floor massive sulfide deposits and comparison with deposits hosted in ancient volcanic successions.

Monecke, Thomas, Petersen, Sven , Hannington, Mark D., Grant, Hannah and Samson, I. (2016) The minor element endowment of modern sea-floor massive sulfide deposits and comparison with deposits hosted in ancient volcanic successions. In: Rare Earth and Critical Elements in Ore Deposits. , ed. by Verplanck, P. L. and Hitzman, M. W.. Reviews in Economic Geology, 18 . Society of Economic Geologists, Knoxville, Tenn., pp. 245-306. ISBN 978-1-62949-218-6

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Abstract

Sea-floor massive sulfide deposits represent a new type of base and precious metal resources that may be
exploited by future deep-sea mining operations. These deposits occur in diverse tectonic environments and
are mostly located along the global mid-ocean ridge system within international waters and arc-related settings
within the exclusive economic zones of the world’s oceans. Much controversy is currently centered on the question
whether sea-floor massive sulfide deposits represent a significant resource of metals that could be exploited
to meet the metal demand of modern technology-based society.
Chemical analysis of sulfide samples from sea-floor hydrothermal vent sites worldwide shows that sea-floor
massive sulfides can be enriched in the minor elements Bi, Cd, Ga, Ge, Hg, In, Mo, Sb, Se, Te, and Tl, with
concentrations ranging up to several tens or hundreds of parts per million. The minor element content of seafloor
sulfides broadly varies with volcanic and tectonic setting. Massive sulfides on mid-ocean ridges commonly
show high concentrations of Se, Mo, and Te, whereas arc-related sulfide deposits can be enriched in Cd, Hg,
Sb, and Tl. Superposed on the volcanic and tectonic controls, the minor element content of sea-floor sulfides
is strongly influenced by the temperature-dependent solubility of these elements. The high- to intermediatetemperature
suite of minor elements, Bi, In, Mo, Se, and Te, is typically enriched in massive sulfides composed
of chalcopyrite, while the low-temperature suite of minor elements, Cd, Ga, Ge, Hg, Sb, and Tl, is more typically
associated with sphalerite-rich massive sulfides. Temperature-related minor element enrichment trends
observed in modern sea-floor hydrothermal systems are broadly comparable to those encountered in fossil
massive sulfide deposits.
Although knowledge on the mineralogical sequestration of the minor elements in sea-floor massive sulfide
deposits is limited, a significant proportion of the total amount of minor elements contained in massive sulfides
appears to be incorporated into the crystal structure of the main sulfide minerals, including pyrite, pyrrhotite,
chalcopyrite, sphalerite, wurtzite, and galena. In addition, the over 80 trace minerals recognized represent
important hosts of minor elements in massive sulfides. As modern sea-floor sulfides have not been affected by
metamorphic recrystallization and remobilization, the minor element distribution and geometallurgical properties
of the massive sulfides may differ from those of ancient massive sulfide deposits.
The compilation of geochemical data from samples collected from hydrothermal vent sites worldwide now
permits a first-order evaluation of the global minor element endowment of sea-floor sulfide deposits. Based on
an estimated 600 million metric tons (Mt) of massive sulfides in the neovolcanic zones of the world’s oceans, the
amount of minor elements contained in sea-floor deposits is fairly small when compared to land-based mineral
resources. Although some of the minor elements are potentially valuable commodities and could be recovered
as co- or by-products from sulfide concentrates, sea-floor massive sulfide deposits clearly do not represent a
significant or strategic future resource for these elements.

Document Type: Book chapter
Keywords: Seafloor massive sulfides, critical elements, resource potential
Research affiliation: OceanRep > GEOMAR > FB4 Dynamics of the Ocean Floor > FB4-MUHS > Marine Mineralische Rohstoffe
OceanRep > GEOMAR > FB4 Dynamics of the Ocean Floor > FB4-MUHS
Open Access Journal?: No
Date Deposited: 05 Apr 2016 06:28
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2017 08:40
URI: http://oceanrep.geomar.de/id/eprint/31957

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