Uniform Distribution of Yttrium and Heavy Rare Earth Elements in Round Top Mountain Rhyolite Deposit , Sierra Blanca Texas, USA: Data, Significance, and Origin

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Nicholas E Pingitore Jr1, Juan W Clague1 and Daniel Gorski2, (1)University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, United States, (2)Texas Rare Earth Resources, Sierra Blanca, TX, United States
The Round Top Mountain peraluminous rhyolite, exposed at the surface in Sierra Blanca, Hudspeth County, west Texas, USA, is enriched in yttrium and heavy rare earth elements (YHREEs). Other potentially valuable elements in the deposit include Be, Li, U, Th, Sn, F, Nb, and Ta. Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp. proposes to extract the YHREEs from the host mineral variety yttrofluorite by inexpensive heap leaching with dilute sulfuric acid, which also releases some of the Be, Li, U, F, and Th from other soluble minor minerals.

Data: Feldspars and quartz comprise 90-95% of the rhyolite, with pheonocrysts of up to 250 microns set in an aphanitic matrix that hosts the typically sub-micron target yttrofluorite. Reverse circulation cuttings from some 100 drill holes, two drill cores, and outcrop and trench observations suggest striking physical homogeneity through this billion-plus ton surface-exposed laccolith, about 1200 feet high and a mile in diameter (375 x 1600 m). Gray to pink, and other minor hues, color variation derives from magnetite—hematite redox reaction.

Plots of Y, 13 REEs, U, Th, and Nb analyses from over 1500 samples collected from 64 drill holes (color codes in figure) exhibit remarkably little variation in the concentration of these elements with geographic position or depth within the laccolith.

Importance: Uniform mineralization grades help insure against the mining production surprises often associated with vein deposits and heterogeneous open pit deposits. At Round Top, mine feedstock can be relatively constant over the life of the mine (multiple decades), so the mechanical mining process can be optimized early on and not need expensive alterations later. Likewise, the chemical and physical parameters of the heap leach can be perfected. The sensitive and expensive process of extraction of elements and element groups from the pregnant leach solution and purification also can be optimized.

Origin: The remarkable homogeneity of the YHREE distribution through the laccolith suggest YHREE and associated mineralization from a late-stage fluorine vapor generated within the magma in situ, rather than from injection of a F-rich fluid from an external source. The micron-scale cavities that produce up to 5% original porosity in the rhyolite may be nano-analogues of the cavities associated with granite pegmatites.