This complex of ancient magmas is known to have formed some two billion years ago, but the source of its metallic riches has been a matter of scientific dispute. Now researchers from the Carnegie Institution and the University of Cape Town have traced the origin of the unique ore deposits by using another of South Africa's treasures—diamonds.
The study, published in the June 12 issue of Nature, suggests that the source of these valuable ores may be ancient parts of the mantle beneath the African continent.
Platinum group elements (PGEs), which include platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, osmium and iridium, are extremely rare in the Earth's crust. Platinum, the most abundant, is 30 times rarer than gold. Mined only in a few places in the world, these elements are becoming increasingly important in applications ranging from pollution control (they are key components of catalytic converters in automobiles) to microelectronics.
Previous isotopic studies of rocks from the Bushveld Complex had suggested that a significant fraction of the magma that formed the complex and deposited the ores came from shallow parts of the crust, despite the rarity of PGEs there compared to the Earth's mantle. "But the ore layers are extremely homogeneous over hundreds of kilometers," says Steven Shirey of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. "The crust is very heterogeneous. That suggests a deeper source for the platinum."
To test this idea, Shirey and Stephen H. Richardson of the University of Cape Town studied minute mineral inclusions in about 20 diamonds mined from areas surrounding the Bushveld Complex. The diamonds formed at depths of 150-200 kilometers within the Earth's mantle. By measuring the ratios of certain isotopes of strontium, osmium, and neodymium in the mineral inclusions, the researchers were able to determine the isotopic "signatures" of the different regions of the mantle where the diamonds grew. They then compared these signatures with those of ore rocks in the Bushveld Complex.
Richardson and Shirey found that the isotopic signatures of the ores could be matched by varying mixtures of source rocks in the mantle beneath the continental crust. That these parts of the mantle were involved in producing the magmas is also suggested by seismic studies, which reveal anomalies beneath the complex. The anomalies were likely the result of magmas rising through these parts of the mantle.
"This helps explain the richness of these deposits," says Richardson. "The old subcontinental mantle has a higher PGE content than the crust and there is more of it for the Bushveld magmas to traverse and pick up the PGEs found in the ores."
The results of this study may be applicable to similar ore deposits elsewhere, such as the Stillwater Complex in Montana. "Knowing how these processes work can lead to better exploration models and strategies," says Shirey.
Steven Shirey | EurekAlert!
Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic
24.10.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy