The aerial view above shows the location of the Brush Wellman beryllium mine near Spor Mountain, Utah. It is reportedly the only major beryllium mining operation in the USA and one of the very few economic beryllium ore locations in the world. The host materal is called “tuff”- a compacted and cemented volcanic ash composition. Coincident with this Be deposit is low grade uranium and fluorspar. Occurances of Cu, Au, and other base metals can be found in the area.

The concentration of Be in the ore body is thought to be due to the mineralization action of meteoric and hydrothermal fluids. The region is marked by the presence of 3 Oligocene-era calderas, with the Spor mountain Be mineralization found along the ring structure of the Thomas caldera.

The action of hot, saturated aqueous flows transporting solublized components from distant host bodies is one of the chief mechanisms for the appearance of “ore bodies” near the surface of the earth. Very often, such deposits are found in regions of faults and fractures of various kinds of rock formations. Mineral laden water follows the fracture system and, as it moves toward the surface, begins to cool and deposits the burden of now insoluble compounds. Deposition can occur due to simple solubility properties, redox from exposure to atmospheric oxygen, or via ion exchange with available chemical species to form high Ksp compositions.

This is nothing new to geologists who have been aware of these mechanisms for generations. But for a non-geochemical chemist like myself, the matter of how elements like beryllium come to be concentrated is less than familiar. Indeed, the question of how any element comes to be concentrated in rock formations is a question of increasing interest to Th’ Gaussling. I hope to spend a lot of time in the future exploring this matter.

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