Rare Earth Element Scavenging in Seawater

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Examinations of rare earth element (REE) adsorption in seawater, using a variety of surface-types, indicated that, for most surfaces, light rare earth elements (LREEs) are preferentially adsorbed compared to the heavy rare earths (HREEs). Exceptions to this behavior were observed only for silica phases (glass surfaces, acid-cleaned diatomaceous earth, and synthetic SiO2). The affinity of the rare earths for surfaces can be strongly affected by thin organic coatings. Glass surfaces which acquired an organic coating through immersion in Tampa Bay exhibited adsorptive behavior typical of organic-rich, rather than glass, surfaces. Models of rare earth distributions between seawater and carboxylate-rich surfaces indicate that scavenging processes which involve such surfaces should exhibit a strong dependence on pH and carbonate complexation. Scavenging models involving carboxylate surfaces produce relative REE abundance patterns in good general agreement with observed shale-normalized REE abundances in seawater. Scavenging by carboxylate-rich surfaces should produce HREE enrichments in seawater relative to the LREEs and may produce enrichments of lanthanum relative to its immediate trivalent neighbors. Due to the origin of distribution coefficients as a difference between REE solution complexation (which increases strongly with atomic number) and surface complexation (which apparently also increases with atomic number) the relative solution abundance patterns of the REEs produced by scavenging reactions can be quite complex.

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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, v. 54, issue 10, p. 2645-2656