Probing ore deposits formation: New insights and challenges from synchrotron and neutron studies

Joël Brugger, Allan Pring, Frank Reith, Chris Ryan, Barbara Etschmann, Weihua Liu, Brian O'Neill, Yung Ngothai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


The understanding of the physico-chemical processes leading to the formation and weathering of ore deposits plays an increasingly important role in mineral exploration. Synchrotron, neutron, and nuclear radiation are contributing to this endeavour in many ways, including (i) support the modelling of ore transport and deposition, by providing molecular-level understanding of solvent-solute interaction and thermodynamic properties for the important metal complexes in brines, vapours, and supercritical fluids over the range of conditions relevant for the formation of ore deposits (i.e., temperature 25-600 °C; pressure 1-109 Pa; and fluid compositions varying from hypersaline (e.g., >50 wt% NaCl) to volatile-rich (e.g., CO2, CH4, and H2S)); (ii) track the fluids that travelled through rocks and predict their ore-forming potential by analysing hydrothermal minerals and remnants of those fluids trapped in these minerals as 'fluid inclusions'; (iii) characterize the biochemical controls on metal mobility in soils to predict the geochemical footprint of a buried mineral deposit. X-ray fluorescence (XRF), particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE), and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) are the most common techniques used in support of mineral exploration. Analytical challenges are related to (i) the complexity of heterogeneous natural samples, which often contain only low concentrations of the elements of interest; (ii) beam sensitivity, especially for redox-sensitive elements in aqueous fluids or biological samples; (iii) extreme sample environments, e.g., in-situ study of fluids at high pressure and temperature. Thus, critical improvements need to be made on a number of fronts to: (i) develop more efficient detectors, able to map large areas in heterogeneous samples (e.g., 106-108 pixels per map), and also to collect a maximum number of photons to limit sample exposure and beam damage; (ii) integrate techniques (e.g., XRF, XAS, and X-ray diffraction (XRD)) on a single beamline, and promote synergy between neutron-, synchrotron-, and nuclear microprobe-based methods; (iii) advance the theory (e.g., quantitative XANES interpretation; X-ray extended range technique (XERT) measurements) to gain maximum information from the hard-won datasets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalRadiation Physics and Chemistry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Hydrothermal chemistry
  • Mineral deposits
  • Neutron diffraction
  • Synchrotron
  • X-ray absorption spectroscopy
  • X-ray imaging


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