Review paper: Exploration geophysics for intrusion-hosted rare metals

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Abstract

Igneous intrusions, notably carbonatitic–alkalic intrusions, peralkaline intrusions, and pegmatites, represent significant sources of rare-earth metals. Geophysical exploration for and of such intrusions has met with considerable success. Examples of the application of the gravity, magnetic, and radiometric methods in the search for rare metals are presented and described. Ground gravity surveys defining small positive gravity anomalies helped outline the shape and depth of the Nechalacho (formerly Lake) deposit within the Blatchford Lake alkaline complex, Northwest Territories, and of spodumene-rich mineralization associated with the Tanco deposit, Manitoba, within the hosting Tanco pegmatite. Based on density considerations, the bastnaesite-bearing main ore body within the Mountain Pass carbonatite, California, should produce a gravity high similar in amplitude to those associated with the Nechalacho and Tanco deposits. Gravity also has utility in modelling hosting carbonatite intrusions, such as the Mount Weld intrusion, Western Australia, and Elk Creek intrusion, Nebraska.

The magnetic method is probably the most successful geophysical technique for locating carbonatitic–alkalic host intrusions, which are typically characterized by intense positive, circular to sub-circular, crescentic, or annular anomalies. Intrusions found by this technique include the Mount Weld carbonatite and the Misery Lake alkali complex, Quebec. Two potential carbonatitic–alkalic intrusions are proposed in the Grenville Province of Eastern Quebec, where application of an automatic technique to locate circular magnetic anomalies identified several examples. Two in particular displayed strong similarities in magnetic pattern to anomalies accompanying known carbonatitic or alkalic intrusions hosting rare-metal mineralization and are proposed to have a similar origin.

Discovery of carbonatitic–alkalic hosts of rare metals has also been achieved by the radiometric method. The Thor Lake group of rare-earth metal deposits, which includes the Nechalacho deposit, were found by follow-up investigations of strong equivalent thorium and uranium peaks defined by an airborne survey. Prominent linear radiometric anomalies associated with glacial till in the Canadian Shield have provided vectors based on ice flow directions to source intrusions. The Allan Lake carbonatite in the Grenville Province of Ontario is one such intrusion found by this method. Although not discovered by its radiometric characteristics, the Strange Lake alkali intrusion on the Quebec–Labrador border is associated with prominent linear thorium and uranium anomalies extending at least 50 km down ice from the intrusion. Radiometric exploration of rare metals hosted by pegmatites is evaluated through examination of radiometric signatures of peraluminous pegmatitic granites in the area of the Tanco pegmatite.

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