The Little Cation that Could

Lithium, the first element in the alkali metals group of the periodic table, may seem a strange choice as a subject for which to devote a whole issue of Elements. Why should you care about lithium? What can lithium do for you? Well, lots, as it turns out. Not only is lithium a critical metal for modern society, it is also becoming an increasingly important tool for Earth scientists.

Read More

All Hands on Deck

The geosciences have existed as a set of interrelated disciplines for centuries and have changed in some significant ways over the generations. But they have not changed as much as they need to in order to advance science in creative ways that will most benefit humanity. At this moment, as the world is gripped by a pandemic and there are worldwide protests against racial injustice, it is particularly important to recognize the power of diverse perspectives and ideas and to take real and effective action to increase diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the Earth sciences. The world needs highly skilled Earth scientists – including those with expertise in mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry: this is an “all hands on deck” moment.

Read More

Black Lives Matter: Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Geochemistry

On 12 June 2020, the GS–EAG ran a town hall meeting called “Black Lives Matter – Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Geochemistry.” During the event, over 500 participants heard from community members on how to fight racism, increase diversity and equity in our discipline, and to make the GS, the EAG, and the Goldschmidt meeting safe and inclusive for all. We will follow this theme over the next few issues, beginning with the following opening statements from the four early career researchers on the town hall panel.

Read More

v16n4 From the Editors

Elements magazine has published many topical issues for which the focus has been on an individual element (see graphic). Some elements were featured as a group, such as the platinum group elements (v4n4) or the rare earth elements (v8n5). Others were featured as allotropes, as happened for carbon as diamond (v1n2) or carbon as graphite (v10n6). Yet others were featured in the context of an overview of the many roles that an element plays in natural systems. The current issue, “Lithium: Less is More” (v16n4), falls under this latter category.

Read More

Popping the Geosciences’ Bubble of Limited Diversity

One of the pleasures of serving as a principal editor of Elements is working with people from across the whole Earth science community, many from places, subjects and institutions who I wouldn’t encounter in the rest of my professorial life. This issue is a good example: its contributing authors and editors include men and women from four continents and seven countries, studying everything from isotope geochemistry to mining to advanced batteries to medical biochemistry, while working in universities, national labs, technology and mining companies, consulting agencies, and a medical center. This breadth reflects the efforts Elements makes to assure that the words in our pages capture the full range of insights and experiences of the diverse minds that are engaged in the Earth sciences. We are proud that many issues of Elements have authors and editors that almost represent a cross section of the world.

Read More

From Mine to Mind and Mobiles: Society’s Increasing Dependence on Lithium

Lithium is everywhere. If you have a mobile phone or a laptop, you are taking advantage of one of the technological revolutions of the last 30 years: lithium-ion batteries. Lithium has long been used in pharmaceuticals and in the manufacture of grease, ceramics, and glass, but has now become the symbolic element of the current energy revolution. Lithium is ubiquitous in our society and plays a role in our lives that could not have been previously imagined. From its mining to its applications in advanced battery materials and pharmaceuticals, welcome to the lithium decade. Electric mobility will become the new normal.

Read More

Classification and Characteristics of Natural Lithium Resources

There are three broad types of economic lithium deposit: 1) peralkaline and peraluminous pegmatite deposits and their associated metasomatic rocks; 2) Li-rich hectorite clays derived from volcanic deposits; 3) salar evaporites and geothermal deposits. Spodumene-bearing pegmatites are the most important and easily exploitable Li deposits, typically containing 0.5 Mt Li. Salar deposits hold the largest Li reserves, can reach up to 7 Mt Li, but are more difficult to exploit. Allowing for recycling, the current predicted demand up to the year 2100 is 20 Mt Li; world resources are currently estimated at more than 62 Mt Li. Thus, abundant resources exist, and no long-term shortage is predicted.

Read More

Lithium and Lithium Isotopes in Earth’s Surface Cycles

Lithium and its isotopes can provide information on continental silicate weathering, which is the primary natural drawdown process of atmospheric CO2 and a major control on climate. Lithium isotopes themselves can help our understanding of weathering, via globally important processes such as clay formation and cation retention. Both these processes occur as part of weathering in modern surface environments, such as rivers, soil pore waters, and groundwaters, but Li isotopes can also be used to track weathering changes across major climate-change events. Lithium isotope evidence from several past climatic warming and cooling episodes shows that weathering processes respond rapidly to changes in temperature, meaning that weathering is capable of bringing climate back under control within a few tens of thousands of years.

Read More

High-Temperature Processes: Is it Time for Lithium Isotopes?

The field of high-temperature Li isotope geochemistry has been rattled by major paradigm changes. The idea that Li isotopes could be used to trace the sources of fluids, rocks, and magmas had to be largely abandoned, because Li diffusion causes its isotopes to fractionate at metamorphic and magmatic temperatures. However, diffusive fractionation of Li isotopes can be used to determine timescales of geologic processes using arrested diffusion profiles. High diffusivity and strong kinetic isotope fractionation favors Li isotopes as a tool to constrain the durations of fast processes in the crust and mantle, where other geochronometers fall short. Time may be the parameter that high-temperature Li isotope studies will be able to shed much light on.

Read More