EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The surface chemistry of carbonatite soils: Implications for REE resources.

Martin Smith1, Charles Beard1,2, Isaac Watkins1, Sam Broom-Fendley3, Frances Wall3, Xu Cheng4, Yan Liu5, Wei Chen6, and Jindrich Kynicky7
Martin Smith et al.
  • 1University of Brighton, School of Environment and Technology, Brighton, U.K. (
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, U.K. (
  • 3Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, Falmouth, U.K. (
  • 4School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China (
  • 5Key Laboratory of Deep-Earth Dynamics of Ministry of Natural Resources, Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Science, Beijing, China (
  • 6State Key Laboratory of Geological Processes and Mineral Deposits, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan, China (
  • 7Central European Institute of Technology, Brno, Czech Republic (

The rare earth elements (REE), and in particular neodymium and dysprosium, are essential for the development of renewable energy. At present the REE are sourced from either low concentration weathered granitoid (ion adsorption clay) deposits in southern China, or from high concentration carbonatite-related deposits [1], especially the World’s dominant REE mine at Bayan Obo, China, but also including the Mt Weld weathered carbonatite, Australia. Weathered carbonatites (e.g. Tomtor, Russia; Mount Weld, Australia) are some of the world’s highest grade REE deposits. As part of the NERC Global Partnerships Seedcorn fund project WREED, we have carried out preliminary investigations in weathering products from carbonatite hosted REE deposits. Three end member deposit styles can be identified – in situ residual deposits, where carbonate dissolution has generated primary REE mineral enrichment on palaeosurfaces or in karst; supergene enrichment from dissolution and reprecipitation of REE phosphates and fluorcarbonates forming hydrated phosphates or authigenic carbonate minerals; clay and oxide caps (either from in situ weathering or from soil transport from surrounding rocks) that may hold the REE adsorbed to mineral surfaces (c.f. the ion adsorption deposits). High grade weathered carbonatite deposits typically consist of supergene horizons, that may be phosphate-rich due to dissolution and re-precipitation of apatite and monazite during the weathering process (Mount Weld [2][3]), overlain by later sediments that may be REE enriched by accumulation of residual minerals (e.g. Tomtor [4]). The mineralogy of the ore zone is linked to, but distinct from, the unweathered carbonatite rock, and includes phosphates, crandallite-group minerals, carbonates and fluorcarbonates and oxides. We have carried out leaching studies, SEM examination and XPS characterisation of soil and weathered rock samples from a range of deposits. Residual and supergene processes can result in enrichments up to 100x times bedrock concentrations, with residual enrichments in particular hosted in monazite and bastnäsite. Supergene enrichment results in more complex mineralogy which may present processing challenges. Clay-rich soils have much lower REE concentrations. However, sequential leaching studies demonstrate that a significant proportion of REE are present at trace levels in the oxide fraction in residual and supergene deposits. In clay caps the easily leachable fraction of REE matches that of ion adsorption deposits and may represent a potentially easily extractable resource.



[1] Wall and Chakhmouradian, 2012, Elements 8, 333-340;

[2] Duncan and Willett, 1990, Geology of Mineral Deposits of Australia pp. 591-597;

[3] Lottermoser, 1990, Lithos 24, 151-167;

[4] Kravchenko and Pokrovsky, 1995, Econ. Geol. 90, 676-689;

How to cite: Smith, M., Beard, C., Watkins, I., Broom-Fendley, S., Wall, F., Cheng, X., Liu, Y., Chen, W., and Kynicky, J.: The surface chemistry of carbonatite soils: Implications for REE resources., EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-13081,, 2023.