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NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2024 Entry - Rare Earth Element Mineralisation in Carbonatites of Mozambique

University of Exeter - Department of Geology

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Cornwall, Penryn
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: From £18,622
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 2nd November 2023
Closes: 9th January 2024
Reference: 4952

About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Project Background

As society moves from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy, demand for the raw materials that are critical for this energy transition is rapidly increasing. Among these, the rare earth elements (REE) are particularly important as they are essential ingredients in high-strength permanent magnets used in wind turbines and most electric vehicles. The largest and highest grade REE deposits are hosted in carbonatites (igneous rocks with >50% carbonate minerals) and alkaline rocks (igneous rocks with exceptionally high contents of sodium and potassium), which are commonly closely associated. These alkaline-carbonatite complexes are relatively rare (with 609 known carbonatites globally), compositionally diverse, and occur as plutonic, sub-volcanic and extrusive rocks. The characteristics needed to form a REE-rich carbonatite are generally recognised to be emplacement at relatively shallow crustal levels, with sufficient melt differentiation to form REE-enriched ferrocarbonatites, followed by some degree of hydrothermal alteration. However, this generalised conceptual model is based upon a relatively small number of well-studied alkaline-carbonatite complexes. The links between carbonatites and alkaline rocks remain deeply debated and the exact evolutionary path from a carbonatite magma to a REE ore deposit is not well constrained. In-part, this obscurity stems from the challenges of mapping carbonatites in the field, the multi-phase complexity of alkaline-carbonatite complexes, and the (probable) formation of alkaline carbonate minerals, which are poorly preserved in the rock record owing to different degrees of hydrothermal overprinting and the propensity for carbonatites to weather in the surface environment.

This project focusses on the Monte Muambe carbonatite and the surrounding Lupata volcanics, Mozambique, both of which are the southern-most expression of the Chilwa Alkaline Province (a highly prospective area of carbonatites and alkaline igneous rocks in Malawi and Mozambique). Monte Muambe is an exceptionally large carbonatite complex comprising REE-rich and REE-poor carbonatites intruded into Karroo-age sandstones. Preliminary field studies indicate that Monte Muambe occupies a conceptual knowledge gap between shallow-sub volcanic carbonatites, which are more likely to be mineralised in REE, and extrusive rocks. Existing studies on genetically similar complexes have been carried out elsewhere in the Chilwa Alkaline Province to the north, but occur at deeper emplacement depths, while extrusive (relatively unmineralized) carbonatites of a similar age occur to the west in Zambia. Despite occupying this interesting knowledge gap, the complex is poorly studied, with work limited to a small number of exploration reports. Through the CASE partnership with Altona Rare Earths, this project presents the first opportunity to study these localities in detail since they were discovered in the 1920s.

 

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