Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the Pacific

By: , and 
Edited by: D.S. Cronan



Co-rich Fe-Mn crusts occur throughout the Pacific on seamounts, ridges, and plateaus where currents have kept the rocks swept clean of sediments at least intermittently for millions of years. Crusts precipitate out of cold ambient sea water onto hard-rock substrates forming pavements up to 250 mm thick. Crusts are important as a potential resource for Co, Ni, Pt, Mn, Tl, Te, and other metals, as well as for the paleoclimate signals stored in their stratigraphic layers. Crusts form at water depths of about 400 to 4000 m, with the thickest and most Co-rich crusts occurring at depths of about 800 to 2500 m, which may vary on a regional scale. Gravity processes, sediment cover, submerged and emergent reefs, and currents control the distribution and thickness of crusts on seamounts. Crusts occur on a variety of substrate rocks that generally decrease in the order, breccia, basalt, phosphorite, limestone, hyaloclastite, and mudstone. Because of this wide variety of substrate types, crusts are difficult to distinguish from the substrate using remotely sensed data, such as geophysical measurements, but are generally weaker and lighter-weight than the substrate. Crusts can be distinguished from the substrates, however, by their much higher gamma radiation levels. The mean dry bulk density of crusts is 1.3 g/cm3, the mean porosity is 60%, and the mean surface area is extremely high, 300 m2/g. Crusts generally grow at rates of 1 to 10 mm/Ma. Crust surfaces are botryoidal, which may be modified to a variety of forms by current erosion. In cross-section, crusts are generally layered, with individual layers displaying massive, botryoidal, laminated, columnar, or mottled textures. Characteristic layering is persistent regionally in the Pacific. Crusts are composed of ferruginous vernadite (δ-MnO2) and X-ray amorphous Fe oxyhydroxide, with moderate amounts of carbonate fluorapatite (CFA) in thick crusts and minor amounts of quartz and feldspar in most crusts. Elements most commonly associated with the vernadite phase include Mn, Co, Ni, Cd, and Mo, whereas those most commonly associated with Fe oxyhydroxide are Fe and As. Detrital phases are represented by Si, Al, K, Ti, Cr, Mg, Fe, and Na; the CFA phase by Ca, P, Sr, Y, and CO2; and a residual biogenic phase by Ba, Sr, Ce, Cu, V, Ca, and Mg. Crusts contain Co contents up to about 2.3%, Ni to 1%, and Pt to 3 ppm, with mean Fe/Mn ratios of 0.6 to 1.3. Fe/Mn decreases, whereas Co, Ni, Ti, and Pt increase in central Pacific crusts and Fe/Mn, Si, and Al increase in continental margin crusts and in crusts with proximity to west Pacific volcanic arcs. Vernadite and CFA-related elements decrease, whereas Fe, Cu, and detrital-related elements increase with increasing water depth of crust occurrence. Cobalt, Ce, Tl, and maybe also Ti, Pb, and Pt are strongly concentrated in crusts over other metals because of oxidation reactions. Total rare earth elements (REEs) commonly vary between 0.1% and 0.3% and are derived from sea water along with other hydrogenetic elements, Co, Mn, Ni, etc. Platinum, Rh, Ir, and some Ru in crusts are also derived from sea water, whereas Pd and the remainder of the Ru derive from detrital minerals. The older parts of thick crusts were phosphatized during at least two global phosphogenic events during the Tertiary, which mobilized and redistributed elements in those parts of the crusts. 240Silicon, Fe, Al, Th, Ti, Co, Mn, Pb, and U are commonly depleted, whereas Ni, Cu, Zn, Y, REEs, Sr, and Pt are commonly enriched in phosphatized layers compared to younger nonphosphatized layers. The dominant controls on the concentration of elements in crusts include the concentration of metals in sea water and their ratios, colloid surface charge, types of complexing agents, surface area, and growth rates. Crusts act as closed systems with regard to the isotopic ratios of Be, Nd, Pb, Hf, Os, and U-series, which in part have been used to date crusts and in part used as isotopic tracers of paleoceanographic and paleoclimatic conditions. Those tracers are especially useful in delineating temporal changes in deep-ocean circulation. Research and development on the technology of mining crusts are only in their infancy. Detailed maps of crust deposits and a better understanding of small-scale seamount topography are required to design the most appropriate mining equipment.

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the Pacific
Chapter 9
Year Published 1999
Language English
Publisher CRC Press
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description 42 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Other Government Series
Larger Work Title Handbook of marine mineral deposits
First page 239
Last page 280
Other Geospatial Pacific Ocean
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