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Abstract

Highly evolved alkaline/peralkaline igneous rocks host deposits of rare earth elements (REE), including Y as well as Zr, Hf, Nb, Ta, U, and Th. The host rocks spanning from silica-undersaturated (nepheline syenites) to silica-oversaturated (granites) occur in intraplate tectonic environments, mainly in continental settings and are typically associated with rifting, faulting, and/or crustal extension. They range in age from Neoarchean/Paleoproterozoic to Mesozoic, but several significant deposits are of Mesoproterozoic age. The deposits/prospects can be subdivided into three types. The first is hosted by nepheline syenitic rocks of large, layered alkaline intrusions where the mineralization commonly occurs in layers rich in REE-bearing minerals, which mostly show cumulate textures (e.g., Thor Lake/Nechalacho, Canada; Ilimaussaq, Greenland; Lovozero, Russia; Kipawa, Canada; Norra Kärr, Sweden; Pilanesberg, South Africa). The second type includes mineralization in peralkaline granitic rocks where REE-bearing minerals are usually disseminated. The mineralization is typically hosted by pegmatites (including the Nb-Y-F type), felsic dikes, and minor granitic intrusions (e.g., Strange Lake, Canada; Khaldzan-Buregtey, Mongolia; Ghurayyah, Saudi Arabia; Bokan, Alaska, United States). The third type is disseminated, very fine grained, and hosted by peralkaline felsic volcanic/volcaniclastic rocks, mostly of trachytic composition (e.g., Dubbo Zirconia and Brockman/Hastings, Australia).

The bulk of the REE is present in ore/accessory minerals which in some mineralized zones, particularly in cumulate rocks from alkaline complexes, can reach >10 vol %. Mineralization is composed of a variety of REE-bearing minerals, which frequently show complex replacement textures. They include fluorocarbonates, phosphates, silicates, and oxides. Economically most important are bastnäsite, monazite, xenotime, loparite, eudialyte, synchysite, and parasite. Many other minerals are either sparse or it is difficult with present technology to profitably extract REE from them on a commercial scale. Compared to carbonatite-hosted REE deposits, the REE mineralization in alkaline/peralkaline complexes has lower light REE concentrations but has commonly higher contents of heavy REE and Y and shows a relative depletion of Eu. Elevated concentrations of U and Th in the ore assemblages make gamma-ray (radiometric) surveys an important exploration tool.

The host peralkaline (granitic, trachytic, and nepheline syenitic) magmas undergo extensive fractional crystallization, which is protracted in part due to high contents of halogens and alkalis. The REE mineralization in these rocks is related to late stages of magma evolution and typically records two mineralization periods. The first mineralization period produces the primary magmatic ore assemblages, which are associated with the crystallization of fractionated peralkaline magma rich in rare metals. This assemblage is commonly overprinted during the second mineralization period by the late magmatic to hydrothermal fluids, which remobilize and enrich the original ore. The parent magmas are derived from a metasomatically enriched mantle-related lithospheric source by very low degrees of partial melting triggered probably by uplift (adiabatic) or mantle plume activity. The rare metal deposits/mineralization related to peralkaline igneous rocks represent one of the most economically important resources of heavy REE including Y. In addition to REE, some of these deposits contain economically valuable concentrations of other rare metals including Zr, Nb, Ta, Hf, Be, U, and Th, as well as phosphates.

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