Systematic Investigation of REE Mobility and Fractionation During Continental Shale Weathering Along a Climate Gradient

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Lixin Jin1, Lin Ma1, Ashlee Laura Denton Dere2, Tim White2 and Susan L Brantley3, (1)University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, United States, (2)Penn State University, University Park, PA, United States, (3)Pennsylvania State University Main Campus, University Park, PA, United States
Rare earth elements (REE) have been identified as strategic natural resources and their demand in the United States is increasing rapidly. REE are relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, but REE deposits with minable concentrations are uncommon. One recent study has pointed to the deep-sea REE-rich muds in the Pacific Ocean as a new potential resource, related to adsorption and concentration of REE from seawater by hydrothermal iron-oxyhydroxides and phillipsite (Kato et al., 2010). Finding new REE deposits will be facilitated by understanding global REE cycles: during the transformation of bedrock into soils, REEs are leached into natural waters and transported to oceans. At present, the mechanisms and factors controlling release, transport, and deposition of REE - the sources and sinks - at Earth’s surface remain unclear.

Here, we systematically studied soil profiles and bedrock in seven watersheds developed on shale bedrock along a climate transect in the eastern USA, Puerto Rico and Wales to constrain the mobility and fractionation of REE during chemical weathering processes. In addition, one site on black shale (Marcellus) bedrock was included to compare behaviors of REEs in organic-rich vs. organic-poor shale end members under the same environmental conditions. Our investigation focused on: 1) the concentration of REEs in gray and black shales and the release rates of REE during shale weathering, 2) the biogeochemical and hydrological conditions (such as redox, dissolved organic carbon, and pH) that dictate the mobility and fractionation of REEs in surface and subsurface environments, and 3) the retention of dissolved REEs on soils, especially onto secondary Fe/Al oxyhydroxides and phosphate mineral phases. This systematic study sheds light on the geochemical behaviors and environmental pathways of REEs during shale weathering along a climosequence.