Most geological collections we hear about in the news are the prettiest, oldest, youngest, largest, smallest, rarest, most expensive or have some exciting story related to them that ties them to the evolution of our planet. Dinosaurs, human remains and meteorites are particularly popular. Over the last year we’ve embarked on a major curatorial project rehousing something that is the opposite – an unglamorous collection of bags of crushed rock.
The Central African copper belt is one of the world’s most important copper producing districts, with dozens of deposits spanning a 400km length through the Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Zambia. Of these copper deposits, a select few contain significant quantities of cobalt, which is produced as a by-product of the ore refining process.
In June 2016 a field trip was undertaken to Zambia in order to examine cobalt-rich ore from the copper belt. Dr Alex Webber, Research Fellow at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton and member of the COG3 Consortium reports from the field trip.
CoG3 project member and University of Manchester PhD student Sulaiman Mulroy reports back on a recent fieldwork trip to Cameroon in West Africa.
In June 2016 I travelled to Cameroon to collect samples from the Nkamouna laterite, one of a number of lateritic ore deposits formed on top of lenticular serpentinite rocks, which cover around 240km2 in the East of Cameroon.
In total the region hosts seven lateritic ore bodies, covering ~1250km2, though only two have been subjected to rigorous exploration: Nkamouna has proven and probable reserves of 54Mt at grades of 0.25% Co and 1.7% Ni, and further north, at Mada, 150Mt of inferred resources of similar grade are believed to be hosted in the laterite.
The overall purpose of our Science Advisory Board is to assess and advise upon the strategic direction of the team’s project, CoG3: Geology, Geochemistry and Geomicrobiology of Cobalt. It also ensures that all components of the project stay focused on their objectives and remain sufficiently integrated so that the entire project can deliver the desired impact.
In April 2016 the CoG3 team travelled to Brazil to carry out fieldwork at the Piauí deposit. Researcher Dr Paul Schofield describes their trip:
Cobalt is a technology-enabling metal with numerous applications that are particularly essential to the ‘green agenda’. Despite cobalt being such a critical material, there is a very high risk associated with its supply.
Researcher Dr Agnieszka Dybowska describes a recent visit to Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, during which the CoG3 team completed their first detailed spectroscopic analysis of laterite samples.
On Thursday 28 April we headed to Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, hoping to carry out atomic scale analysis of a sample from the Shevchenko laterite deposit in Kazakhstan – one of the samples we’re investigating as a potential new source of cobalt.
For some of us this was the first visit to a synchrotron facility, and definitely a great experience!
Ed Thomas, PhD student on the CoG3 project, explains the importance of cobalt to a group of school children in Manchester.
As a Widening Participation Fellow I am often involved with outreach events encouraging school children in to science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. My workshops are usually based on an aspect of Earth Sciences that the children have come across before; the rock cycle, dinosaurs, volcanoes…
However, the most engaging part of science is not what we already know, but the unsolved problems we face as a society. It is one of these unanswered questions I posed to year 9 children from four schools in Greater Manchester.
At the start of a major new project involving collaboration between 8 institutions from across the UK, Rachel Norman of the Museum’s Economic and Environmental Earth Sciences division introduces us to one of the new ways the CoG3 team are unearthing cobalt, a metal of great strategic and economic importance.
On Wednesday 27 January, Museum and University of Southampton scientists searched in the Museum collections for manganese nodules.
Manganese nodules form in very deep water on the seafloor, at the sediment-water interface, and cover vast areas. They form by the precipitation of manganese minerals out of seawater over extremely long time scales. Manganese nodules grow at a rate of just ~2 mm per million years, making them one of the slowest geological processes that we know of. This means that if a nodule reaches a radius of 50 mm, it could be 25 million years old!