Elements Covers

Thematic Articles

Innovative Dose Rate Determinations for Luminescence Dating

Luminescence dating relies on the fact that mineral grains (crystals) are exposed to sources of natural radiation, which causes charge to be stored in electron traps within the crystal lattice. The radiation dose rate from the grain’s local environment, which ideally should be homogeneous, is what is routinely measured for luminescence dating. However, there are often local, sub-millimetre, sources of radiation heterogeneity that adversely affect a desired luminescence age. For the past 15 years, researchers have been developing Monte Carlo simulations and computer software that can correct for these heterogeneities. These new computer modelling techniques, and concomitant advances in statistics, allow more accurate luminescence dates to be obtained and also allow researchers access to a wider range of samples for an even greater number of dating applications.

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Telling the Time with Dust, Sand and Rocks

Luminescence dating plays a major role in reconstructing environments of Earth’s recent geological history. Since its proposal in 1953, luminescence dating has developed into a versatile geochronological technique that can be applied to material up to 2 million years old. Luminescence dating has many novel applications because it can utilize the most ubiquitous minerals in the Earth’s crust (quartz and feldspar) to determine the timing of sediment burial or exposure. The technique can be applied to grain sizes from silt to boulder, and to sediments that occur in a wide range of settings, e.g. deserts, rivers, lakes, glaciers, caves. This issue discusses the latest technical developments of luminescence dating and the key scientific discoveries that it has facilitated over the last few decades.

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Layered Mafic–Ultramafic Intrusions of Fennoscandia: Europe’s Treasure Chest of Magmatic Metal Deposits

Northeastern Fennoscandia hosts a rich diversity of mafic–ultramafic intrusions of variable shape and size, emplaced in different tectonic regimes over a period spanning ~600 million years (between 1.88 Ga and 2.5 Ga). Several of the bodies contain world-class ore deposits, notably the Kemi chromium deposit and the Pechenga nickel deposits. Other deposits include nickel and copper at Kevitsa, Kotalahti and Sakatti; vanadium at Koillismaa; and platinum-group elements at Portimo and Penikat. These deposits constitute important resources that could shield Europe from potential future supply shortages of these key industrial metals.

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Quantitative Textural Insights into the Formation of Gabbro in Mafic Intrusions

Rock textures provide a key to deciphering the physical processes by which gabbro forms in mafic intrusions. Developments in both direct optical and crystallographic methods, as well as indirect magnetic fabric measurements, promise significant advances in understanding gabbroic textures. Here, we illustrate how bulk magnetic fabric data, particularly from intrusions with sparse silicate-hosted magnetite, may be used to extend direct crystallographic observations from thin sections. We also present a scheme for characterizing crystallographic foliation and lineation and use this to suggest that the strength of gabbro plagioclase foliations and lineations varies significantly with geodynamic environment.

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Plagioclase Zonation: An Archive of Trapped Liquid and Crustal Contamination

Many cumulates in layered intrusions contain plagioclase crystals that are compositionally zoned in terms of their major elements, and, less commonly, in their 87Sr/86Sr isotopic ratios. Major-element zoning in plagioclase is best explained by trapped liquid in the pore spaces between cumulus crystals, which is a result of the complex interplay between the rate of crystal growth and the cooling rate. Isotopic zoning in feldspars likely reflects crystal growth in a magma that is becoming, or has become, isotopically contaminated through wall rock partial melting and assimilation processes. Mineral-scale isotopic zoning, such as detected in plagioclase, can be used to infer the cooling rates of layered intrusions.

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Metasomatic Chromitite Seams in the Bushveld and Rum Layered Intrusions

Millimeter–centimeter thick layers of chromite-rich rock (chromitites) are rare, but ubiquitous, features of the Bushveld (South Africa) and Rum (Scotland) layered intrusions. Despite their meager dimensions, the chromitites provide insight into processes that modify igneous layering and, in the Bushveld, the formation of the platinum-group element–rich Merensky Reef. The Merensky Reef chromitites represent reaction zones formed in a compositional gradient between hydrous silicate melt and a crystalline cumulate assemblage, analogous to reaction zones in metamorphic systems. At Rum, the chromitites formed at the melting front between newly injected magma and the magma chamber floor, an analogous process but one driven by thermal, rather than chemical, energy.

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The Skaergaard Intrusion of East Greenland: Paradigms, Problems and New Perspectives

The Skaergaard Intrusion of East Greenland is the quintessential example of low-pressure closed-system fractionation of basaltic magma. Field evidence of extensive layering and associated quasi-sedimentary structures, and the resultant ‘cumulate’ paradigm of crystal settling in magma chambers, has led to many long-standing controversies. Of particular significance is the lack of consensus about the microstructural record and the mechanisms by which interstitial liquid is expelled from solidifying crystal mushy zones. Skaergaard remains a cradle for new insights into igneous processes, with recent work highlighting the importance of separation of immiscible liquids on magma evolution.

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Layered Intrusions: From Petrological Paradigms to Precious Metal Repositories

Layered mafic–ultramafic intrusions have occupied a position of central importance in the field of igneous petrology for almost a century. In addition to underpinning petrological paradigms such as cumulus theory, some layered intrusions are exceptionally enriched in base and precious metals, including the platinum-group elements. Technological advances are driving the current and future state-of-the-art in the study of layered intrusions and, looking forward, it is clear that these bodies will continue to inspire and challenge our understanding of magmatic systems and magma solidification for many years to come.

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Educating the Resource Geologist of the Future: Between Observation and Imagination

Training geologists for a career in the mining industry has changed over the years. It has become at the same time more specialized and with a broader approach. The modern resource geologist needs to understand new styles of ore deposits, the impact of energy transition on the types of deposits and to implement mining processes, the increasing number of mining regulations, and the shift toward educating populations in countries that are new to mining. Based on observation and imagination, rooted in fundamental science, the education of a resource geologist has been transformed by the digital revolution and the integration of the principles of sustainable development. Training future resource geologists means changing the role of teachers to better develop the imaginations of their students and to increasing what students know about the social impact of mining.

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Improving Mitigation of the Long-Term Legacy of Mining Activities: Nano- and Molecular-Level Concepts and Methods

Mining activities over several millennia have resulted in a legacy of environmental contamination that must be mitigated to minimize ecosystem damage and human health impacts. Designing effective remediation strategies for mining and processing wastes requires knowledge of nano- and molecular-scale speciation of contaminants. Here, we discuss how modern nano- and molecular-level concepts and methods can be used to improve risk assessment and future management of contaminants that result from mining activities, and we illustrate this approach using relevant case studies.

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