Enrichment of rare earth elements in epigenetic dolomite occurring in contact metamorphosed Witbank coals (South Africa)

Ofentse M. Moroeng, Bridgette Murathi, Nicola J. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The emplacement of igneous intrusions into coal alters both the organic and inorganic components, and may result in the addition of specific components, including rare earth elements (REEs), into the country rock. Previous studies on the intruded coals of the Main Karoo Basin (South Africa) have mainly focused on understanding changes to their organic fraction despite the likelihood that the inorganic composition is also affected, as demonstrated by others studying intruded coals elsewhere in the world. This study reports on the effects of a 0.4 m thick dolerite dyke on the mineralogy and geochemistry of Witbank coals, South Africa. Coal samples were collected at 0.25 m intervals on both sides of the dyke (west and east); in addition to the intruded coals, an unaltered coal from the same seam and a sample of the dolerite were included. The samples were assessed using petrography, X-Ray Diffraction, X-Ray Fluorescence, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry following sequential leaching, focusing on REEs for the latter analysis. Inertinite is the main maceral group in the coal samples; as a result, the impact of the intrusion on the organic fraction is compared using mean random total reflectance (%RoTmr). Total reflectance increases from 1.65 %RoTmr (for the unaltered coal) to 4.17 %RoTmr closer to the dyke on the western side. In contrast, the eastern side reports lower values (max. 1.94 %RoTmr). Similar to reflectance, dolomite is higher in samples from the western side of the dyke. Dolomite is also found in the unaltered coal (4 wt%) and the dolerite sample (15 wt%). Syngenetic dolomite and a weak positive Gd anomaly for the unaltered coal (ΣREE = 83.7 μg/g) suggest the presence of acidic groundwaters during peatification. Subsequently, the coals were also affected by hydrothermal activity, related to the intrusion of the dolerite dyke. For the intruded coals, dolomite (fracture-infilling) and ΣREEs are higher on the western side, at a maximum of 24 wt% and 153.0 μg/g, respectively. Carbonate associated REEs are higher for the intruded coals than the total for the dolerite (ΣREE = 23.3 μg/g). This reflects the incompatibility of REEs with early-formed minerals in the dolerite, concentrating them in the residual melt. Increased reflectance and dolomite (and associated REEs) in coals from the western side suggest pronounced hydrothermal activity, related to the availability of accommodation space (i.e., fractures).

Original languageEnglish
Article number104405
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Volume282
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

Keywords

  • Carbonates
  • Dolerite intrusion
  • Gd anomaly
  • Hydrothermal activity
  • Main Karoo Basin
  • Medium REEs
  • Mode of occurrence
  • Sequential leaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy

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