Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Roaming Romania for Rare Earths ... by Victoria Honour

Victoria Honour from the Camborne School on Mines
Victoria Honour from the Camborne School of Mines is currently doing her MSc research project with BGS. Here she tells us about her experience of looking for rare earth elements (REE) in Romania. 

Concerns over resource security have been present since the industrial revolution: the future of coal, copper and cobalt supplies have all been questioned in the past.  Today, the EU has a list of materials deemed critical to Europe's economic growth but for which there are concerns about security of supply.  Rare Earths are top of this list and consequently in 2013, the European Commission funded a project called EURARE (www.eurare.eu), which aims to set the basis for a European REE industry. 

The EURARE project has identified numerous deposits for further evaluation across Europe, including in Romania.  The rare earth deposit in Romania is hosted by the Ditrău complex, which lies in north-eastern Romania, an area known for being the coldest in the country.  It is an alkaline layered intrusion with high levels of REE, niobium and molybdenum.  The current information available on this fascinating intrusion is rather sparse, so this is where my MSc project and Romanian fieldwork with the BGS comes in. 

The aim of the fieldwork was to examine the field-relationships between the rare earth mineralisation and the complex and obviously, as geologists, collect samples for later study.

Mineralogist, Paulina Hirtopanu's office in Budapest

Exploring a mine waste dump
Myself, Kathryn Goodenough and Richard Shaw started the trip off with a fascinating meeting at the University of Bucharest with local professor and mineralogist Paulina Hirtopanu.  We saw some spectacular specimens and it was a great opportunity to get our eye in for what we would see once we headed to the complex. We also met with Strategic Resources who hold prospecting permits for the complex and provided us with fantastic support throughout our fieldwork.

After our fleeting glimpse of Bucharest, we headed northwards, experiencing the less-risk-adverse driving style of the Romanians, alongside plenty of horses and carts (number plates on carts are essential). We arrived in Gheorgheni, a small Romanian town in eastern Transylvania, and began investigating the geology of the complex.  The complex covers a 18km2 area so there was lots of ground to explore, but we were assisted by local geologist Dr Gyula Jakab and Strategic Resources' knowledge of the area and specifically, outcrop locations.



Sulphide and molybdenum mineralisation along a vein
The area was extensively explored in the 70s leaving an abundance of mine waste dumps at the entrance to exploration galleries.  Even in this 'waste material', we found many gigantic, fist-sized monazites rich in rare earths.  There were beautiful mineralised veins cutting through the complex, full of molybdenum, sulphides and monazite (a rare earth bearing mineral); we brought some of these samples back to the UK and hope to be able quantify the processes which occurred to form the rare earth enriched veins.  We also saw magma mixing 'frozen-in-time' in a quarry that had been explored for dimension stone… brilliant exposure ready-cut for geologists. 

The scenery in Romania was stunning; alpine-esque mountains perfect for hiking, giving us some amazing views when we dragged ourselves away from studying the rocks!  We were chased a few times by the 'cow-dogs' who objected to geologists getting too close to their herds.  We saw an abundance of interesting insects and were lucky enough to see a European brown bear and her cub!

The Alpine-esque scenery of Romania
The geology was outstanding and challenging, holding so much potential for both academic study and economic extraction.  Our collected samples are currently being processed, ready for the analytical stage of the project.  This is a fascinating project that I'm really excited to be working on with the BGS!

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