Discovery of Ni-smectite-rich saprolite at Loma Ortega, Falcondo mining district (Dominican Republic): geochemistry and mineralogy of an unusual case of “hybrid hydrous Mg silicate – clay silicate” type Ni-laterite

Abstract

Hydrous Mg silicate-type Ni-laterite deposits, like those in the Falcondo district, Dominican Republic, are dominated by Ni-enriched serpentine and garnierite. Recently, abundant Ni-smectite in the saprolite zone have been discovered in Loma Ortega, one of the nine Ni-laterite deposits in Falcondo. A first detailed study on these Ni-smectites has been performed (μXRD, SEM, EPMA), in addition to a geochemical and mineralogical characterisation of the Loma Ortega profile (XRF, ICP-MS, XRD). Unlike other smectite occurrences in laterite profiles worldwide, the Loma Ortega smectites are trioctahedral and exhibit high Ni contents never reported before. These Ni-smectites may be formed from weathering of pyroxene and olivine, and their composition can be explained by the mineralogy and the composition of the Al-depleted, olivine-rich parent ultramafic rock. Our study shows that Ni-laterites are mineralogically complex, and that a hydrous Mg silicate ore and a clay silicate ore can be confined to the same horizon in the weathering profile, which has significant implications from a recovery perspective. In accordance, the classification of “hybrid hydrous Mg silicate – clay silicate” type Ni-laterite deposit for Loma Ortega would be more appropriate.

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Acknowledgements

This research has been financially supported by FEDER Funds, the Spanish projects CGL2009-10924 and CGL2012-36263. The authors are grateful to the Falcondo Glencore Xstrata Nickel mine staff for their hospitality and generosity during field work and sampling. The careful and detailed revision of this manuscript made by S. Gleeson and A. González-Álvarez are acknowledged, as well as the guidance and recommendations by Editor Georges Beaudoin and Associate Editor Beate Orberger.

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Correspondence to Cristina Villanova-de-Benavent.

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ESM Table 1

Concentrations of relevant major elements (in wt.%) as well as Ni (in %) in samples from drill core O954–0307. UMIA (ultramafic index of alteration) after Aiglsperger et al. (2016b). Data from 35.9 to 41.3 m is not presented to avoid redundancy. (XLSX 19 kb)

ESM Table 2

Concentrations of PGE (in ppb) in samples from drill core O954–0307. Data from 35.9 to 41.3 m is not presented to avoid redundancy. (XLSX 10 kb)

ESM Table 3

Representative EPMA analyses (in weight percent) and calculated structural formulae (in atoms per formula unit) of olivine, enstatite, diopside and Cr-spinel (<d.l. = lower than detection limit). (XLSX 14 kb)

ESM Table 4

Representative EPMA analyses (in weight percent) and calculated structural formulae (in atoms per formula unit) of serpentine I and serpentine II (na = not analysed, <d.l. = lower than detection limit). (XLSX 12 kb)

ESM Table 5

Representative EPMA analyses (in weight percent) and calculated structural formulae (in atoms per formula unit) of garnierites (<d.l. = lower than detection limit). (XLSX 10 kb)

ESM Table 6

Representative EPMA analyses (in weight percent) and calculated structural formulae (in atoms per formula unit) of Ni-smectites (na = not analysed, <d.l. = lower than detection limit). (XLSX 14 kb)

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Tauler, E., Lewis, J.F., Villanova-de-Benavent, C. et al. Discovery of Ni-smectite-rich saprolite at Loma Ortega, Falcondo mining district (Dominican Republic): geochemistry and mineralogy of an unusual case of “hybrid hydrous Mg silicate – clay silicate” type Ni-laterite. Miner Deposita 52, 1011–1030 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00126-017-0750-8

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Keywords

  • Ni-smectite
  • Ni-laterite
  • Hydrous Mg silicate deposit
  • Clay silicate deposit
  • Dominican Republic