Archive for the ‘Geology’ Category


Temperatures of the Past Six Millennia in Alaska

January 29, 2011

Temperatures of the Past Six Millennia in Alaska

Six millennia of summer temperature variation based on midge analysis of lake sediments from Alaska. Clegg, B.F., Clarke, G.H., Chipman, M.L., Chou, M., Walker, I.R., Tinner, W. and Hu, F.S. 2010. Quaternary Science Reviews 29: 3308-3316.

What was done

The authors conducted a high-resolution analysis of midge assemblages found in the sediments of Moose Lake (61°22.45’N, 143°35.93’W) in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve of south-central Alaska (USA), based on data obtained from cores removed from the lake bottom in the summer of AD 2000 and a midge-to-temperaturetransfer function that yielded mean July temperatures (TJuly) for the past six thousand years.

What was learned
The results of the study are portrayed in the accompanying figure, where it can be seen, in the words of Clegg et al., that “a piecewise linear regression analysis identifies a significant change point at ca 4000 years before present (cal BP),” with “a decreasing trend after this point.” And from 2500 cal BP to the present, there is a clear multi-centennial oscillation about the declining trend line, with its peaks and valleys defining the temporal locations of the Roman Warm Period, the Dark Ages Cold Period, the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age — during which the coldest temperatures of the entire interglacial or Holocene were reached — and, finally, the start of the Current Warm Period, which is still not expressed to any significant degree compared to the Medieval and Roman Warm Periods.

Mean July near-surface temperature (°C) vs. years before present (cal BP) for south-central Alaska (USA). Adapted from Clegg et al. (2010).

What it means

In discussing their results, the seven scientists write that “comparisons of the TJuly record from Moose Lake with other Alaskan temperature records suggest that the regional coherency observed in instrumental temperature records (e.g., Wiles et al., 1998; Gedalof and Smith, 2001; Wilson et al., 2007) extends broadly to at least 2000 cal BP,” while noting that (1) climatic events such as the LIA and the MWP occurred “largely synchronously” between their TJuly record from Moose Lake and a δ18O-based temperature record from Farewell Lake on the northwestern foothills of the Alaska Range, and that (2) “local temperature minima likely associated with First Millennium AD Cooling (centered at 1400 cal BP; Wiles et al., 2008) are evident at both Farewell and Hallet lakes (McKay et al., 2008).”

In closing, it is instructive to note that even with the help of the supposedly unprecedented anthropogenic-induced increase in the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration that occurred over the course of the 20th century, the Current Warm Period has not achieved anywhere near the warmth of the MWP or RWP, which suggests to us that the climatic impact of the 20th-century increase in the air’s CO2 content has been negligible, for the warming that defined the earth’s recovery from the global chill of the LIA — which should have been helped by the concurrent increase in the air’s CO2content — appears no different from the non-CO2-induced warming that brought the planet out of the Dark Ages Cold Period and into the Medieval Warm Period.

Gedalof, Z. and Smith, D.J. 2001. Interdecadal climate variability and regime scale shifts in Pacific North America.Geophysical Research Letters 28: 1515-1518.

McKay, N.P., Kaufman, D.S. and Michelutti, N. 2008. Biogenic-silica concentration as a high-resolution, quantitative temperature proxy at Hallet Lake, south-central Alaska. Geophysical Research Letters 35: L05709.

Wiles, G.C., Barclay, D.J., Calkin, P.E. and Lowell, T.V. 2008. Century to millennial-scale temperature variations for the last two thousand years inferred from glacial geologic records of southern Alaska. Global and Planetary Change 60: 115-125.

Wilson, R., Wiles, G., D’Arrigo, R. and Zweck, C. 2007. Cycles and shifts: 1300 years of multi-decadal temperature variability in the Gulf of Alaska. Climate Dynamics 28: 425-440.


The “Green” Treason

January 28, 2011

More on REEs.  Mr Wilson has it mostly right.  Reopening of Mountain Pass is on a “fast track” (See and could be in production in less time than is presented in his piece.  Nevertheless, well intentioned but misdirected regulatory oversight could hamstring the mine/mill restart.  Any true push towards “clean energy” requires increasing uses of REEs and why should the US be held hostage to non-domestic supplies.

By Bill Wilson –

It’s the same old story: The U.S. has abundant natural resources, but refuses to extract and produce them, as usual, because of environmental restrictions and regulatory costs. In the meantime, we are exporting our energy security, job security, and now, national security to China and other emerging markets.
Since 2002, the U.S. has not mined any rare earth elements (REEs) — today used in U.S. smart bombs, silent helicopter blades, night vision, missiles, and tank guns, as well as computers, cell phones, DVD players, and other civilian technologies.
These metals are not even that rare. The nation as a whole has about 13 million metric tons in reserves according to the U.S. Geological Survey. We could make them ourselves. But we don’t.
Leaving that aside for a moment, a modern military, and many common conveniences we today take for granted, would not be possible without these metals. They are essential.
Which is why China has rapidly developed its rare earth element mining sector, with over 55 million metric tons in reserves and 130,000 metric tons of annual production. It now controls over 97 percent of REE mining and refinement in the entire world. China is largely able to do so because it holds about 36 percent of global reserves, has lower labor costs, and because it largely ignores the environmental impact of the REEs. Finally, it lacks competition since the U.S. dropped out of the market.
With the rise of China’s REE near-monopoly, concerns have emerged that the communist dictatorship has too much control over these metals that have become critical to defense and other high technology needs.
So, how could China, an adversary, gain so much control over such a strategically critical industry? Call it the green treason.
The problem is that nearly all of the nation’s production of REEs was done by a single company, Molycorp, at a single mine in California, Mountain Pass. From 1965 to 1985, Molycorp was the world’s leader in this industry, but because of a series of main wastewater pipeline spills from the mine, state and federal environmental regulators all but shut it down.
As reported by the Washington Independent, “Mining at Mountain Pass stopped soon after the spills came to light. Industry sources say Union Oil of California, which bought Molycorp in 1977, couldn’t afford to comply with environmental rules and felt that it couldn’t compete with China.” In other words, the environmental regulatory costs made it cost-prohibitive to produce the metals at a competitive price versus the Chinese.
But, rather than help the industry out with the regulatory problems, the government acted punitively against Molycorp. The regulators were indifferent if domestic production was completely turned off. It made sure production of REEs in the U.S. was severely hindered, even though shortages would disrupt the defense supply chain.
Just like that, a few faceless bureaucrats shut down an entire domestic industry — essential to national security — just as the Chinese overseas competitor was emerging. And it was all in the name of radical environmentalism.
Fears of Chinese manipulation in the market have subsequently been confirmed in July when China once again reduced its export quotas for these metals. Since 2005, it has reduced these quotas from over 65,000 metric tons to just over 30,000, according to the Department of Energy. This has caused prices of the metals to skyrocket.
Already, the scarcity of the REEs is having an impact on U.S. defense capabilities. According to a Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) summary, “A 2009 National Defense Stockpile configuration report identified lanthanum, cerium, europium, and gadolinium as having already caused some kind of weapon system production delay and recommended further study to determine the severity of the delays.” Which, unless the U.S. ramps up production, will only get worse as China tightens the entire world’s supply of REEs.
The GAO report notes the decline of the nation’s capabilities in this area: “The United States previously performed all stages of the rare earth material supply chain, but now most rare earth materials processing is performed in China, giving it a dominant position that could affect worldwide supply and prices.” The Department of Defense is undergoing several other evaluations to determine its dependency on these metals, but we already know that it is high.
So, what can be done to ramp up new domestic production? Right now, the U.S. imports about 10,000 metric tons of these metals, or 7.6 percent of global production, according to the USGS.  Unfortunately, the Mountain Pass mine has been gutted. According to the GAO, it “currently lacks the manufacturing assets and facilities to process the rare earth ore into finished components, such as permanent magnets.” It also lacks “substantial amounts of heavy rare earth elements” used in industry and defense. Nonetheless, Molycorp intends to begin mining again this year, and in July offered a successful $393.75 million IPO to rebuild its capabilities.
According to Dr. Madan Singh, director of the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources (DMMR) in Arizona, it could take up to two years to get the mine back online.
But to get the heavy rare earths, we’ll also need to mine in Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, and Wyoming. Again, the GAO report is not comforting: “Once a company has secured the necessary capital to start a mine, government and industry officials said it can take from 7 to 15 years to bring a property fully online, largely due to the time it takes to comply with multiple state and federal regulations [emphasis added].”
So, barring regulatory waivers being granted to companies to begin extraction immediately, it won’t be until 2020 at least before the nation’s REE capabilities can be fully reconstituted. In the meantime, it is likely that China will continue to reduce its export quotas, ratchet up prices, and hoard the REEs for its own defense stockpiles.
It’s bad enough that environmental radicalism has made the nation more dependent on foreign sources of fuel, and has exported hundreds of thousands of jobs. Now, it is harming our security as a nation.
It is up to Congress to urgently enact legislation that will cut through the red tape and help this domestic industry get its feet back on the ground. We have to make sure we’re not dependent on a hostile nation like China or a single mine in California in order to maintain first-rate defense capabilities. And our security must not be held hostage to onerous environmental regulations. This green treason must be stopped.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.



Geological Society of London Position Statement – Climate Change

January 26, 2011

The following is a very good summary discussion of climate change from a geological (historical geology ) perspective.  I think it is one of the best I have read that presents how recent climate issues compare to geological climate changes.  My only criticism is that after presenting fact-based information of past climate swings, they interject an opinion statement at the end echoing what I deduce is a form of the “precautionary principal” (that and focusing solely on anthropogenic CO2 emissions!).  That hoary “old-wives-tale” has justly been exposed as complete nonsense.

The Geological Society has prepared a position statement on climate change, focusing specifically on the geological evidence. A drafting group was convened, with the aim of producing a clear and concise summation, accessible to a general audience, of the scientific certainties and uncertainties; as well as including references to further sources of information.

The drafting group met on 18 February and 2 July. The resulting document has been discussed, revised and agreed by the External Relations Committee, and by Council. If you have any questions about the document, please contact

A statement by the Geological Society of London

November 2010 • Download a pdf of the statement (.pdf79 Kb)

Climate change is a defining issue for our time. The geological record contains abundant evidence of the ways in which Earth’s climate has changed in the past. That evidence is highly relevant to understanding how it may change in the future. The Council of the Society is issuing this statement as part of the Society’s work “to promote all forms of education, awareness and understanding of the Earth and their practical applications for the benefit of the public globally”. The statement is intended for non-specialists and Fellows of the Society. It is based on analysis of geological evidence, and not on analysis of recent temperature or satellite data, or climate model projections. It contains references to support key statements, indicated by superscript numbers, and a reading list for those who wish to explore the subject further.

What is climate change, and how do geologists know about it?

The Earth’s temperature and weather patterns change naturally over time scales ranging from decades, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of years1. The climate is the statistical average of the weather taken over a long period, typically 30 years. It is never static, but subject to constant disturbances, sometimes minor in nature and effect, but at other times much larger. In some cases these changes are gradual and in others abrupt.

Evidence for climate change is preserved in a wide range of geological settings, including marine and lake sediments, ice sheets, fossil corals, stalagmites and fossil tree rings. Advances in field observation, laboratory techniques and numerical modelling allow geoscientists to show, with increasing confidence, how and why climate has changed in the past. For example, cores drilled through the ice sheets yield a record of polar temperatures and atmospheric composition ranging back to 120,000 years in Greenland and 800,000 years in Antarctica. Oceanic sediments preserve a record reaching back tens of millions of years, and older sedimentary rocks extend the record to hundreds of millions of years. This vital baseline of knowledge about the past provides the context for estimating likely changes in the future.

What are the grounds for concern?

The last century has seen a rapidly growing global population and much more intensive use of resources, leading to greatly increased emissions of gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal), and from agriculture, cement production and deforestation. Evidence from the geological record is consistent with the physics that shows that adding large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere warms the world and may lead to: higher sea levels and flooding of low-lying coasts; greatly changed patterns of rainfall2; increased acidity of the oceans 3,4,5,6; and decreased oxygen levels in seawater7,8,9.

There is now widespread concern that the Earth’s climate will warm further, not only because of the lingering effects of the added carbon already in the system, but also because of further additions as human population continues to grow. Life on Earth has survived large climate changes in the past, but extinctions and major redistribution of species have been associated with many of them. When the human population was small and nomadic, a rise in sea level of a few metres would have had very little effect on Homo sapiens. With the current and growing global population, much of which is concentrated in coastal cities, such a rise in sea level would have a drastic effect on our complex society, especially if the climate were to change as suddenly as it has at times in the past. Equally, it seems likely that as warming continues some areas may experience less precipitation leading to drought. With both rising seas and increasing drought, pressure for human migration could result on a large scale.

When and how did today’s climate become established?

The Earth’s climate has been gradually cooling for most of the last 50 million years. At the beginning of that cooling (in the early Eocene), the global average temperature was about 6-7 ºC warmer than now10,11. About 34 million years ago, at the end of the Eocene, ice caps coalesced to form a continental ice sheet on Antarctica12,13. In the northern hemisphere, as global cooling continued, local ice caps and mountain glaciers gave way to large ice sheets around 2.6 million years ago14.

Over the past 2.6 million years (the Pleistocene and Holocene), the Earth’s climate has been on average cooler than today, and often much colder. That period is known as the ‘Ice Age’, a series of glacial episodes separated by short warm ‘interglacial’ periods that lasted between 10,000-30,000 years15,16. We are currently living through one of these interglacial periods. The present warm period (known as the Holocene) became established only 11,500 years ago, since then our climate has been relatively stable. Although we currently lack the large Northern Hemisphere ice sheets of the Pleistocene, there are of course still large ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica1.

What drives climate change?

The Sun warms the Earth, heating the tropics most and the poles least. Seasons come and go as the Earth orbits the Sun on its tilted axis. Many factors, interacting on a variety of time scales, drive climate change by altering the amount of the Sun’s heat retained at the Earth’s surface and the distribution of that heat around the planet. Over millions of years the continents move, ocean basins open and close, and mountains rise and fall. All of these changes affect the circulation of the oceans and of the atmosphere. Major volcanic eruptions eject gas and dust high into the atmosphere, causing temporary cooling. Changes in the abundance in the atmosphere of gases such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane affect climate through the Greenhouse Effect – described below.

As well as the long-term cooling trend, evidence from ice and sediment cores reveal cycles of climate change tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years long. These can be related to small but predictable changes in the Earth’s orbit and in the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Those predictable changes set the pace for the glacial-interglacial cycles of the ice age of the past 2.6 million years17. In addition, the heat emitted by the Sun varies with time. Most notably, the 11-year sunspot cycle causes the Earth to warm very slightly when there are more sunspots and cool very slightly when there are few. Complex patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation cause the El Niño events and related climatic oscillations on the scale of a few years1,18.

What is the Greenhouse Effect?

The Greenhouse Effect arises because certain gases (the so-called greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere absorb the long wavelength infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface and re-radiate it, so warming the atmosphere. This natural effect keeps our atmosphere some 30ºC warmer than it would be without those gases. Increasing the concentration of such gases will increase the effect (i.e. warm the atmosphere more)19.

What effect do natural cycles of climate change have on the planet?

Global sea level is very sensitive to changes in global temperatures. Ice sheets grow when the Earth cools and melt when it warms. Warming also heats the ocean, causing the water to expand and the sea level to rise. When ice sheets were at a maximum during the Pleistocene, world sea level fell to at least 120 m below where it stands today. Relatively small increases in global temperature in the past have led to sea level rises of several metres. During parts of the previous interglacial period, when polar temperatures reached 3-5°C above today’s20, global sea levels were higher than today’s by around 4-9m21. Global patterns of rainfall during glacial times were very different from today.

Has sudden climate change occurred before?

Yes. About 55 million years ago, at the end of the Paleocene, there was a sudden warming event in which temperatures rose by about 6ºC globally and by 10-20ºC at the poles22. Carbon isotopic data show that this warming event (called by some the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM) was accompanied by a major release of 1500-2000 billion tonnes or more of carbon into the ocean and atmosphere. This injection of carbon may have come mainly from the breakdown of methane hydrates beneath the deep sea floor10, perhaps triggered by volcanic activity superimposed on an underlying gradual global warming trend that peaked some 50 million years ago in the early Eocene. CO2 levels were already high at the time, but the additional CO2 injected into the atmosphere and ocean made the ocean even warmer, less well oxygenated and more acidic, and was accompanied by the extinction of many species on the deep sea floor. Similar sudden warming events are known from the more distant past, for example at around 120 and 183 million years ago23,24. In all of these events it took the Earth’s climate around 100,000 years or more to recover, showing that a CO2 release of such magnitude may affect the Earth’s climate for that length of time25.

Are there more recent examples of rapid climate change?

Abrupt shifts in climate can occur over much shorter timescales. Greenland ice cores record that during the last glacial stage (100,000 – 11,500 years ago) the temperature there alternately warmed and cooled several times by more than 10ºC 26,27. This was accompanied by major climate change around the northern hemisphere, felt particularly strongly in the North Atlantic region. Each warm and cold episode took just a few decades to develop and lasted for a few hundred years. The climate system in those glacial times was clearly unstable and liable to switch rapidly with little warning between two contrasting states. These changes werealmost certainly caused by changes in the way the oceans transported heat between the hemispheres.

How did levels of CO2 in the atmosphere change during the ice age?

The atmosphere of the past 800,000 years can be sampled from air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice cores. The concentrations of CO2 and other gases in these bubbles follow closely the pattern of rising and falling temperature between glacial and interglacial periods. For example CO2 levels varied from an average of 180 ppm (parts per million) in glacial maxima to around 280 ppm during interglacials. During warmings from glacial to interglacial, temperature and CO2 rose together for several thousand years, although the best estimate from the end of the last glacial is that the temperature probably started to rise a few centuries before the CO2 showed any reaction. Palaeoclimatologists think that initial warming driven by changes in the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt eventually caused CO2 to be released from the warming ocean and thus, via positive feedback, to reinforce the temperature rise already in train28. Additional positive feedback reinforcing the temperature rise would have come from increased water vapour evaporated from the warmer ocean, water being another greenhouse gas, along with a decrease in sea ice, and eventually in the size of the northern hemisphere ice sheets, resulting in less reflection of solar energy back into space.

How has carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere changed over the longer term?

Estimating past levels of CO2 in the atmosphere for periods older than those sampled by ice cores is difficult and is the subject of continuing research. Most estimates agree that there was a significant decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere from more than1000 ppm at 50 million years ago (during the Eocene) to the range recorded in the ice cores of the past 800,000 years22. This decrease in CO2 was probably one of the main causes of the cooling that led to the formation of the great ice sheets on Antarctica29. Changes in ocean circulation around Antarctica may also have also played a role in the timing and extent of formation of those ice sheets30,31,32.

How has carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changed in recent times?

Atmospheric CO2 is currently at a level of 390 ppm. It has increased by one third in the last 200 years33. One half of that increase has happened in the last 30 years. This level and rate of increase are unprecedented when compared with the range of CO2 in air bubbles locked in the ice cores (170-300 ppm). There is some evidence that the rate of increase in CO2 in the atmosphere during the abrupt global warming 183 million years ago (Early Jurassic), and perhaps also 55 million years ago (the PETM), was broadly similar to today’s rate34.

When was CO2 last at today’s level, and what was the world like then?

The most recent estimates35 suggest that at times between 5.2 and 2.6 million years ago (during the Pliocene), the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached between 330 and 400 ppm. During those periods, global temperatures were 2-3°C higher than now, and sea levels were higher than now by 10 – 25 metres, implying that global ice volume was much less than today36. There were large fluctuations in ice cover on Greenland and West Antarctica during the Pliocene, and during the warm intervals those areas were probably largely free of ice37,38,39. Some ice may also have been lost from parts of East Antarctica during the warm intervals40. Coniferous forests replaced tundra in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere41, and the Arctic Ocean may have been seasonally free of sea-ice42.

When global temperature changed, did the same change in temperature happen everywhere?

No. During the glacial periods in the Pleistocene the drop in temperature was much greater in polar regions than in the tropics. There is good evidence that the difference between polar and tropical temperatures in the warmer climate of the Eocene to Pliocene was smaller than it is today. The ice core record also shows differences between Greenland and Antarctica in the size and details of the temperature history in the two places, reflecting slow oceanic heat transport between the two poles16.

In conclusion – what does the geological record tell us about the potential effect of continued emissions of CO2?

Over at least the last 200 million years the fossil and sedimentary record shows that the Earth has undergone many fluctuations in climate, from warmer than the present climate to much colder, on many different timescales. Several warming events can be associated with increases in the ‘greenhouse gas’ CO2. There is evidence for sudden major injections of carbon to the atmosphere occurring at 55, 120 and 183 million years ago, perhaps from the sudden breakdown of methane hydrates beneath the seabed. At those times the associated warming would have increased the evaporation of water vapour from the ocean, making CO2 the trigger rather than the sole agent for change. During the Ice Age of the past two and a half million years or so, periodic warming of the Earth through changes in its position in relation to the sun also heated the oceans, releasing both CO2 and water vapour, which amplified the ongoing warming into warm interglacial periods. That process was magnified by the melting of sea ice and land ice, darkening the Earth’s surface and reducing the reflection of the Sun’s energy back into space.

While these past climatic changes can be related to geological events, it is not possible to relate the Earth’s warming since 1970 to anything recognisable as having a geological cause (such as volcanic activity, continental displacement, or changes in the energy received from the sun)43. This recent warming is accompanied by an increase in CO2 and a decrease in Arctic sea ice, both of which – based on physical theory and geological analogues – would be expected to warm the climate44. Various lines of evidence, reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly show that a large part of the modern increase in CO2 is the result of burning fossil fuels, with some contribution from cement manufacture and some from deforestation44. In total, human activities have emitted over 500 billion tonnes of carbon (hence over 1850 billion tons of CO2) to the atmosphere since around 1750, some 65% of that being from the burning of fossil fuels18,45,46,47,48. Some of the carbon input to the atmosphere comes from volcanoes49,50, but carbon from that source is equivalent to only about 1% of what human activities add annually and is not contributing to a net increase.

In the coming centuries, continued emissions of carbon from burning oil, gas and coal at close to or higher than today’s levels, and from related human activities, could increase the total to close to the amounts added during the 55 million year warming event – some 1500 to 2000 billion tonnes. Further contributions from ‘natural’ sources (wetlands, tundra, methane hydrates, etc.) may come as the Earth warms22. The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5-6ºC, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of any mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more. Numerical models of the climate system support such an interpretation44. In the light of the evidence presented here it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be.
Members of the working group:

Dr C Summerhayes Prof J Lowe
Chairman and GSL Vice-President Department of Geography,
Scott Polar Research Institute, Royal Holloway University of London
Cambridge University

Prof J Cann FRS Prof N McCave
School of Earth and Environment, Department of Earth Sciences
Leeds University University of Cambridge

Dr A Cohen Prof P Pearson
Department of Earth and Environmental School of Earth and Ocean Sciences,
Sciences, The Open University Cardiff University

Prof J Francis Dr E Wolff FRS
School of Earth and Environment, British Antarctic Survey,
Leeds University Cambridge

Dr A Haywood
School of Earth and Environment, Ms S Day
Leeds University Earth Science Communicator, GSL

Dr R Larter Mr E Nickless
British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge Executive Secretary, GSL

Background Reading

For those wishing to read further, the following provide an accessible overview of the topic:

Alley, R.B., 2000, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press.

Bell, M. and Walker, M.J.C, 2005, Late Quaternary Environmental Change: Physical and Human Perspectives, (2nd edition). Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Dansgaard, W., 2005, Frozen Annals: Greenland Ice Sheet Research. Neils Bohr Institute, Copenhagen. The book can be downloaded for free from

Houghton, J., 2009, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, (4th edition). Cambridge University Press.

Imbrie, J. and Imbrie, K.P, 1979, Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery. MacMillan, London.

IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. Available online at

Lamb, H.H., 1995, Climate, History and the Modern World, (2nd edition). Routledge, London.

Lovell, B., 2010, Challenged by Carbon: The Oil Industry and Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

Mayewski, P.A. and White, F., 2002, The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change. University of New Hampshire/University Press of New England.

Ruddiman, W.F., 2005, Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton University Press.
For the more intrepid:
Alverson, K.D., Bradley, R.S. and Pedersen, T.F., (eds.) 2003, Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future. The IGBP Series, Springer-Verlag, New York.

Burroughs, W.J., 2007, Climate Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach, (2nd edition). Cambridge University Press.

Cronin, T.M., 2009, Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.

Gibbard, P. and Pillans, B., (eds.), 2008, Special Issue on the Quaternary period/system. Episodes (IUGS Journal of International Geoscience), vol. 31, No.2., (a collection of papers summarising the history of Earth’s environmental and climatic oscillations during the last 2.7 million years).

Langway, Jr., C., 2008, The History of Early Polar Ice-Core records. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Research and Development Center. Available online at:

Lowe, J.J. and Walker, M.J.C., 1997, Reconstructing Quaternary Environments, (2nd edition). Addison Wesley Longman Ltd.

Milne, G.A., Gehrels, W.R., Hughes, C.W. and Tamisiea, M.E., 2009, Identifying the causes of sea-level change. Nature Geoscience.

Ruddiman, W.F., 2001, Earth’s Climate: Past and Future. W.H. Freeman.

A collection of articles on various aspects of Rapid Climate Change is available from the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences web site at:


1 Cronin, T.M., 2009, Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.

2 Alverson, K.D., Bradley, R.S. and Pedersen, T.F., (eds.), 2003, Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future. The IGBP Series. Springer-Verlag, New York.

3 Barker, S. and Elderfield, H., 2002, Foraminiferal calcification response to Glacial-Interglacial changes in atmospheric CO2. Science 297, 833 – 83.

4 Olafsson J. et al., 2009, Rate of Iceland Sea acidification from time series measurements. Biogeoscience 6, 2661-2668.

5 Caldeira, K. and Wickett, M.E., 2003, Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH, Nature 425, 365.

6 Raven, J. et al., 2005, Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Policy document. The Royal Society, London.

7 Whitney, F.A., Freeland, H.J. and Robert, M., 2007, Persistently declining oxygen levels in the interior waters of the eastern subarctic Pacific. Progress in Oceanography 75 (2), 179-199.

8 Keeling, R.F., Kortzinger, A. and Gruber, N., 2010, Ocean Deoxygenation in a Warming World. Annual Review of Marine Science 2, 199-229.

9 Pearce, C.R., Cohen, A.S., Coe, A.L. and Burton, K.W., 2008, Molybdenum isotope evidence for global ocean anoxia coupled with perturbations to the carbon cycle during the Early Jurassic. Geology 3, 231-234.

10 Zachos, J.C., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E. and Billups, K., 2001, Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present. Science 292, 686-693.

11 Miller, K.G., Wright, J.D. and Browning, J.V., 2005, Visions of ice sheets in a greenhouse world. Marine Geology 217, 215-231.

12 Barrett, P. J., 1996, Antarctic paleoenvironment through Cenozoic times—a review. Terra Antarctica, 3, 103–119.

13 Cooper, A.K. and O’Brien, P.E., 2004. Leg 188 synthesis: transitions in the glacial history of the Prydz Bay region, East Antarctica, from ODP drilling. In Cooper, A.K., O’Brien, P.E. and Richter, C. (eds.), Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Programme, Scientific Results, 188. Available from

14 Maslin, M.A., Li, X.S., Loutre, M.-F. and Berger, A., 1998, The contribution of orbital forcing to the progressive intensification of Northern Hemisphere glaciation. Quaternary Science Reviews 17, 411–426.

15 Lisiecki, L.E. and Raymo, M.E., 2005, A Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic delta O-18 records. Paleoceanography 20 (1), PA1003.

16 Jouzel, J., Masson-Delmotte, V., Cattani, O., Dreyfus, G., Falourd, S., Hoffmann, G., Nouet, J., Barnola, J.M., Chappellaz, J., Fischer, H., Gallet, J.C., Johnsen, S., Leuenberger, M., Loulergue, L., Luethi, D., Oerter, H., Parrenin, F., Raisbeck, G., Raynaud, D., Schwander, J., Spahni, R., Souchez, R., Selmo, E., Schilt, A., Steffensen, J.P., Stenni, B., Stauffer, B., Stocker, T., Tison, J.-L., Werner, M. and Wolff, E.W., 2007, Orbital and millennial Antarctic climate variability over the last 800 000 years. Science 317, 793-796.

17 Imbrie, J. and Imbrie, K.P., 1979, Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery. MacMillan, London.

18 Houghton, J., 2009, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing. 4th edition. Cambridge University Press.

19 Walker, J.C.G., Hays, P.B. and Kasting, J.F., 1981, A Negative Feedback Mechanism for the Long-Term Stabilization of Earth’s Surface-Temperature. Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans and Atmospheres 86, 9776-9782.

20 Otto-Bliesner, B.L., Marshall, S.J., Overpeck, J.T, Miller, G.H., Hu, A. and CAPE Last Interglacial Project members, 2006, Simulating Arctic Climate Warmth and Icefield Retreat in the Last Interglaciation. Science 311, 1751-1753.

21 Kopp, R.E., Simons, F.J., Mitrovica, J.X., Maloof, A.C. and Oppenheimer, M., 2009, Probabilistic assessment of sea level during the last interglacial stage. Nature 462, 863-867.

22 Zachos, J.C., Dickens, G.R. and Zeebe, R.E., 2008, An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics. Nature 451, 279-283.

23 Kemp, D.B. et al., 2005, Astronomical pacing of methane release in the Early Jurassic period. Nature 437, 396-399.

24 Jenkyns, H.C., 2010, Geochemistry of oceanic anoxic events. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems 11(3), Q03004.

25 Archer, D. et al., 2009, Atmospheric Lifetime of Fossil Fuel Carbon Dioxide. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37, 117-134.

26 Blunier, T. and Brook, E.J., 2001, Timing of millennial-scale climate change in Antarctica and Greenland during the last glacial period. Science 291 (5501), 109-112.

27 Johnsen, S.J., Clausen, H.B., Dansgaard, W., Fuhrer, K., Gundestrup, N., Hammer, C.U., Iversen, P., Jouzel, J., Stauffer, B. and Steffensen, J.P., 1992, Irregular glacial interstadials recorded in a new Greenland ice core. Nature 359, 311-313.

28 Lüthi, D., Le Floch, M., Stocker, T.F., Bereiter, B., Blunier, T., Barnola, J.M., Siegenthaler, U., Raynaud, D. and Jouzel, J., 2008, High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000-800,000 years before present. Nature 453, 379-382.

29 DeConto, R.M. and Pollard, D., 2003, Rapid Cenozoic glaciation of Antarctica induced by declining atmospheric CO2. Nature 421, 245–249.

30 Livermore, R.A., Hillenbrand, C.-D., Meredith, M. and Eagles, G., 2007, Drake Passage and Cenozoic climate: An open and shut case? Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 8(1), Q01005.

31 Huber, M., Brinkhuis, H., Stickley, C.E., Doos, K., Sluijs, A., Warnaar, J., Schellenberg, S.A. and Williams, G.L., 2004, Eocene circulation of the Southern Ocean: was Antarctica kept warm by subtropical waters? Paleoceanography 9(4), PA3026.

32 Francis, J.E., Marenssi, S., Levy, R., Hambrye, M., Thorn, V.C., Mohr, B., Brinkhuis, H., Warnaar, J., Zachos, J., Bohaty, S. and DeConto, R., 2009, From Greenhouse to Icehouse – the Eocene/Oligocene in Antarctica. In Florindo, F. and Siegert, M. (eds.), Antarctic Climate Evolution, Chapter 8, Developments in Earth and Environmental Sciences 8, Elsevier, 209-368.

33 MacFarling Meure, C., Etheridge, D., Trudinger, C., Steele, P., Langenfelds, R., van Ommen, T., Smith, A. and Elkins, J., 2006, Law Dome CO2, CH4 and N2O ice core records extended to 2000 years BP. Geophysical Research Letters 33 (14), L14810.

34 Cohen, A.S., Coe, A.L. and Kemp, D.B., 2007, The Late Palaeocene Early Eocene and Toarcian (Early Jurassic) carbon isotope excursions: a comparison of their time scales, associated environmental changes, causes and consequences. Journal of the Geological Society 164, 1093-1108.

35 Seki, O., Foster, G.L., Schmidt, D.N., Mackensen, A., Kawamura, K. and Pancost, R.D., 2010, Alkenone and boron-based Pliocene pCO2 records. Earth and Planetary Science Letters Volume 292, Issues 1-2, 201-211.

36 Dowsett, H.J. and Cronin, T.M., 1990, High eustatic sea level during the Middle Pliocene: Evidence from the southeastern U.S. Atlantic Coastal Plain. Geology 18, 435-438.

37 Naish, T. and 55 others, 2009, Obliquity-paced Pliocene West Antarctic ice sheet oscillations. Nature 458, 322-328.

38 Lunt, D.J., Foster, G.L., Haywood, A.M and Stone, E.J., 2008, Late Pliocene Greenland glaciation controlled by a decline in atmospheric CO2 levels. Nature 454 (7208), 1102-1105.

39 Pollard, D. and DeConto, R.M., 2009, Modelling West Antarctic ice sheet growth and collapse through the past five million years. Nature 458, 329-332.

40 Hill, D.J., Haywood, A.M., Hindmarsh, R.C.A. and Valdes, P.J., 2007, Characterising ice sheets during the mid Pliocene: evidence from data and models. In Williams, M., Haywood, A.M., Gregory, J. and Schmidt, D. (eds.), Deep-time perspectives on climate change: marrying the signal from computer models and biological proxies. The Micropalaeontological Society, Special Publication, The Geological Society, London, 517-538.

41 Salzmann, U., Haywood, A.M., Lunt, D.J., Valdes, P.J. and Hill, D.J., 2008, A new global biome reconstruction and data-model comparison for the Middle Pliocene. Global Ecology and Biogeography 17(3), 432-447.

42 Cronin, T.M., Whatley, R.C., Wood, A., Tsukagoshi, A., Ikeya, N., Brouwers, E.M. and Briggs, W.M., 1993, Microfaunal evidence for elevated mid-Pliocene temperatures in the Arctic Ocean. Paleoceanography 8, 161-173.

43 Bard, E. and Delaygue, G., 2008, Comment on “Are there connections between the Earth’s magnetic field and climate?” by Courtillot, V., Gallet, Y., Le Mouël, J.-L., Fluteau, F. and Genevey, A. EPSL 253, 328, 2007. Earth & Planetary Science Letters, 265, No 1-2, 302-307.

44 Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M. et al., 2007, Climate change 2007: The physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC. Cambridge University Press.

45 Andres, R.J., Marland, G., Boden, T. and Bischoff, S., 2000, Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel consumption and cement manufacture, 1751-1991, and an estimate of their isotopic composition and latitudinal distribution. In Wigley, T.M.L. and Schimel, D.S., (eds.), The Carbon Cycle. Cambridge University Press, 53-62.

46 World Resources Institute 2010, Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT):

47 Metz, B., Davidson, O. et al., 2007, Climate Change 2007 – Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the 4th Assessment of the IPCC. Cambridge University Press.

48 Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre of the US Department of Energy -

49 Williams, S.N., Schaeffer, S.J., Calvache, M.L. and Lopez, D., 1992, Global carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by volcanoes. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 56, 1765-1770.

50 Marty, B. and Tolstikhin, I.N., 1998, CO2 fluxes from mid-ocean ridges, arcs and plumes. Chemical Geology 145, 233-248.


U.S. Rare Earth Mine Resumes Active Mining

December 28, 2010

By Michael Kan, IDG News

A major U.S. mine for rare earth metals has gone back into operation, adding a much needed source to offset China’s control of the unique group of materials necessary to build tech gadgets like smart phones and laptops.

Colorado-based Molycorp (  resumed active mining of the rare earth metal facility at Mountain Pass, California last week. The site had been shutdown in 2002 amid environmental concerns and the low costs for rare earth metals provided by mining operations based in China.
Rare earths encompass a group of 17 metals that are vital to the miniaturizing of electronic components such as magnets and capacitors. China mines more than 90 percent of the world’s current demand for them, according to analysts. But the country has been tightening control of its supplies, causing concerns among countries like the U.S. and Japan, which import rare earth metals.

Those fears came into the spotlight when in September media outlets reported that China had stopped exporting rare earths to Japan following a diplomatic spat. While Chinese officials have said the country will not use the resources as a bargaining chip, the government announced earlier this month it was raising export tariffs on certain rare earths.

Molycorp, the owner of the Mountain Pass mine, is seeking to free the U.S. from it’s dependence on China for rare earth metals. By the end of 2012, the company is aiming to produce 20,000 tons of rare earths, likely enough to start meeting U.S. demand. Molycorp also plans on breaking ground to the construction of a new rare earths manufacturing facility at the site next month.

China, on the other hand, produced about 124,000 tons of rare earths in 2009, according to analysts reports. The country is also the biggest manufacturer of products that use the metals.


The Cloud Obscuring Green-Tech’s Revolution Road

October 29, 2010

More on REEs as promised.

This has a good overview of some of the main issues.  I’m not entirely sure; however,  what Chameides means at the end of this article.  Perhaps he is more optimistic than me.  I tend to see rampant government incompetence regarding the understanding of issues like the lack of domestic or even “friendly” foreign supplies for these critical metals.  Instead of throwing money at pseudoscience, government could be providing both incentives to restart existing but mothballed domestic mining ops (this includes muzzling some of the more outlandish anti-everything enviro wackos), promoting mining of new sources, and creating a market of post usage recycling to recover REEs.


by Bill Chameides | Mar 31, 2010

The Mountain Pass mine in California’s Mojave Desert once dominated the mining of rare earths, essential ingredients in many green technologies. Now China dominates, but could others make inroads? (USGS) –(Photo didn’t make the transfer)

The road to the new low-carbon economy might require a detour through China.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. Well, in the case of energy, it seems that every silver lining has a cloud.
Fossil fuels are great sources of energy — they have high-energy density, transportability, relative abundance, and are easily burned [pdf]. But alas, as we all know, there are problems: mining devastation, oil spills, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions. And so the search for other, cleaner energy sources is on.
So Far, No Perfect Alternative

  • Hydropower? Clean as a mountain stream, but the dams can cause serious ecological problems.
  • Nuclear? Really hot — all that high-voltage power without greenhouse gas pollution. But what about sticky little issues like safety, nuclear waste, and nuclear proliferation?
  • Biomass and biofuels? They look good on paper, but the specter of accelerated deforestation and competition with the production of foodstuffs have added a lot of caveats to the story.
  • Electric cars? Zippy, but mass production will require lots of lithium for their batteries.
  • Wind turbines? A gas, so to speak, but what about the noise and the birds and the eyesore factor.
  • Some say there’s always fusion, but what they really mean is always sometime in the way, way future.

Now another problem with the new green technologies is emerging — rare earth elements.

The Elements Known as Rare Earths
Depending upon which chemist you ask, rare earth elements consist of either:

  • the so-called lanthanide series (elements having atomic numbers from 57 [corresponding to lanthanum] to 71 [corresponding to lutetium]) or
  • the actinide (elements 89 to 103) and lanthanide series.

For our story, only the lanthanides are relevant, so let’s focus on those, along with scandium and yttrium. Despite their name, these elements are not rare. They are orders of magnitude more abundant than the really rare gold and platinum, say.  Their rare-earth moniker comes from the fact they rarely show up in concentrated form in a specific mineral or vein. Instead, they are found in very small concentrations just about everywhere, making it very difficult to extract them in large amounts without lots of expense.

Source: USGS
In the 1950s and 1960s most rare-earth mining occurred in South Africa, India and Brazil where the elements were primarily extracted from the mineral monazite (see photo). But starting in about 1965, the United States began to dominate the rare-earth production from mines inMountain Pass, California.
Two decades later, China became the dominant player in rare-earth mining — at great environmental cost. Today, China is responsible for about 97 percent of the globe’s rare-earth production, according to a recentreport in the journal Science.

Rare Earths and Green Tech
As luck would have it, rare earths are essential to many of the new green technologies we’re betting on to launch the new low-carbon economy. For example:

  • A Prius uses more than two pounds of neodymium in its electric engine and roughly 20-30 pounds of lanthanum in its battery.
  • Samarium and neodymium are essential materials for high-powered magnets used in electrical generators used by wind turbines.
  • Europium and terbium are used in electronic displays like LEDs.

And here’s the rub. As the applications — and thus the demand — for rare earths have grown, their production has not.
One consequence: the price of rare earths has skyrocketed. (Terbium for example can sell for as much as ~$150 a pound.)
Another consequence: China is gaining more and more control over the world’s ability to go the green-energy route through its total dominance of the rare-earth-element market.
To meet its own growing need for the stuff, Beijing has restricted exporting rare earths — shrinking them from 75 percent of total domestic production in the early 2000s to about 25 percent today. Between 2002 and 2008 China’s total production of rare earths grew from about 85 to 140 thousand metric tons per year from but their export declined from about 60 to 40 thousand metric tons per year.

American Response?
Could we be trading a dependence on Middle Eastern oil for a dependence on Chinese rare earths? Not necessarily.
For one, China doesn’t have to have a rare earth monopoly. While most of the world’s oil lies under Middle Eastern sands, we’ve got rare earths (see for here example) — the problem is getting at them economically.
With rising demand and prices, interest in mining for rare earths here in the USA is growing, In fact, ramped-up mining operations for rare earths in Mountain Pass are scheduled to resume in 2012, while exploration of other domestic sources is picking up.  But their extraction and processing, like all mining, have environmental costs — such as the creation of moonscapes, tailing ponds and toxic-waste streams, to name a few. A longer term solution most likely lies with research and development.  And how well are we doing on energy R&D? Not so well — just check out Tom Friedman’s columns on the subject.
And here’s what Karl A. Gschneidner Jr., from the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, had to say in a recent Congressional panel hearing: “rare-earth research in the USA on mineral extraction, rare-earth separation, processing of the oxides into metallic alloys and other useful forms, substitution, and recycling is virtually zero.”
The good news is that “virtually zero” is not literally zero. And there’s that silver lining.


Kvanefjeld Project – Rare Earth Elements, Uranium, Sodium Fluoride

October 28, 2010

From – One of the largest rare earth projects currently moving towards production is the Kvanefjeld Project near the southern tip of Greenland. They have drilled over 45,000 meters of diamond core into the Ilimaussaq Intrusive Complex to identify rare earth metals, sodium fluoride,uranium and zinc resources.

Kvanefjeld is an emerging multi-element deposit hosted within marginal phases of the Ilimaussaq Intrusive Complex, located near the southwest tip of Greenland. The deposit is exposed at surface along a series of undulating bluffs on a broad peninsula surrounded by deepwater fjords that run directly out to the Atlantic Ocean. Greenland Minerals and Energy acquired the project in mid-2007 and immediately launched a field program that included airborne radiometric and magnetic surveys, environmental studies, geological investigations and a 10,000m diamond drill program.

The 2007 drill program and geological work formed the basis for a first JORC-compliant resource estimation for the Kvanefjeld deposit that was announced to the Australian Securities Exchange in May, 2008. The resource was subsequently updated in August 2008 as more assay data from the 2007 drill program became available. The results of the 2007 field program were considered extremely encouraging, and in 2008 the company undertook a second large-scale exploration program during which a further 19,300 m of core were drilled. The majority of these meters were drilled into Kvanefjeld, with the aim to improve the JORC resource category from “Inferred” to “Indicated”, as well as increasing the overall resource base. This aim was certainly acheived, and Kvanefjeld is now clearly one of the largest multi-element deposits of its kind globally. During the 2008 field season, a number of new multi-element targets were also drill tested (see “New Multi-Element Targets and Overall Resource Potential”).

The latest resource statement was released to the Australian Securities Exchange in June, 2009 (see below). Zinc has been included in the resource statement after indicative metallurgical test-work suggests that the metal will report with the rare earth elements, where it could be recovered as a separate product.

Kvanefjeld multi-element resource statement, June, 2009

At U3O8%
U3O8 lb/t
cutoff grades1

1 – There is greater coverage of assays for uranium than other elements owing to historic spectral assays. U3O8 has therefore been used to define the cutoff grades to maximise the confidence in the resource calculations.
2 – Additional decimal places do not imply an added level of precision.
3 – Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO) refers to the rare earth elements in the Lanthanide series plus yttrium.
Note:Figures quoted may not sum due to rounding.

Inferred resources of sodium fluoride (NaF)

At NaF%
cutoff grades

1- Sodium fluoride remains under sampled in comparison to REOs, zinc and uranium, and, therefore the resource category is only inferred. The NaF resource is contained within the same geological model as that used to calculate the TREO, U3O8, and Zn resources.

This new resource statement estimates the inventory of contained metal within a 457 Mt ore body to be:

4.91 Mt of Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO), 0.99 Mt and Zinc, 0.12 Mt of Uranium Oxide (283 Mlbs), and 3.09 Mt of NaF

All resource figures are JORC compliant. Resource estimates were calculated by Hellman and Schofield Pty Ltd (

The Kvanefeld REE-U deposit is hosted within the Ilimaussaq Complex, southern Greenland. The Ilimaussaq Complex is a layered alkaline intrusive complex that formed in a continental rift setting approximately 1.16 billion years ago. It has been the subject of many scientific studies and is considered to represent the type-example of a rare group of rocks that are referred to as agpaitic; the term ascribed to an unusual suite of peralkaline nepheline syenites. The intrusion is roughly 17 x 8 km and features distinct magmatic layering. Block faulting has disrupted the continuity of the layering across the intrusion such that different levels are exposed at different locations.

Formation of the intrusion is attributed to four successive pulses of magma. The first produced an augite syenite, which now forms a marginal shell. This was followed by intrusion of a sheet of peralkaline granite. The third and fourth stages make up the bulk of the intrusion and are peralkaline to agpaitic in composition. The third batch of magma differentiated to produce pulaskite, foyaite and naujaite. Stage four produced the agpaitic kakortokites and lujavrites, which are the units of particular economic significance. These rock types formed from volatile-rich alkaline magmas that were extremely enriched in incompatible elements such as rare earth elements, uranium, and high-field-strength elements such as niobium and tantalum. Economic concentrations of rare earth elements and uranium generally occur in the upper most lujavrite sections.

The majority of multi-element mineralisation (REEs, U, Zn and NaF) occurs as disseminations within the lujavrite, with a small component hosted in veins and disseminations in wallrocks adjacent to the lujavrite. Steenstrupine, an unusual phospho-silicate mineral, is the dominant host to both REEs and uranium, with the minerals cerite and vitusite also hosting REEs in portions of the deposit. Sodium fluoride is largely hosted by the mineral villuamite that is disseminated through some lujavrites. Zinc is hosted in the mineral sphalerite that also occurs as disseminations within lujavrite.

Kvanefjeld occurs inside the northwestern margin of the Ilimaussaq Complex where a thick interval of upper lujavrite outcrops along a series bluffs. Locally, other occurrences of upper lujavrite have been identified, and these are being evaluated by geophysical surveys, geological mapping, and diamond drilling, and have the potential to be significant new multi-element deposits. As multi-element ores are largely formed from a specific magmatic unit, they have very good continuity and consistency.

Map of the Ilimaussaq Complex highlighting the location of the Kvanefjeld REE-U deposit, as well as a series of new multi-element exploration targets labeled K2 through to K8.

Bailey, J.C., Sorensen, H., Andersen, T., Kogarko, L.N., Rose-Hansen, J., 2006. On the origin of microrhythmic layering in arfvedsonite lujavrite from the Ilimaussaq alkaline complex, South Greenland. Lithos,  v. 91, p 301-318.

Ferguson, J., 1964. Geology of the Ilímaussaq alkaline intrusion, South Greenland. Bulletin Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse v. 39, p. 82. (also Meddelelser om Grønland 172(4)).

Rose-Hansen, J., Sørensen, H., 2002. Geology of lujavrites from the Ilímaussaq alkaline complex, South Greenland with information from seven bore holes. Greenland Geoscience v. 40 p. 58.

Sørensen, H., 1962. On the occurrence of steenstrupine in the Ilímaussaq massif, southwest Greenland. Bulletin Grønlands Geologiske Undersøgelse v. 32, p. 251. (also Meddelelser om Grønland 167(1)).

Sørensen, H., 1992. Agpaitic nepheline syenites: a potential source of rare elements. Applied Geochemistry, v. 7, p. 417-427.

Sørensen, H., 2001. Brief introduction to the geology of the Ilímaussaq alkaline complex, South Greenland, and its exploration history. Geology of Greenland Survey Bulletin v. 190, p. 7–24.

Sørensen, H., Bohse, H., Bailey, J.C., 2006. The origin and mode of emplacement of lujavrites in the Ilímaussaq alkaline complex, South Greenland. Lithos, v. 91, p. 286-300.

Steenfelt, A., 1991. High-technology metals in alkaline and carbonatitic rocks in Greenland: recognition and exploration. Journal of Geochemical Exploration, v. 40, p. 263-279.


China’s Ace in the Hole: Rare Earth Elements

October 27, 2010

You will undoubtedly be hearing a whole lot more about Rare Earths (REEs) in the next few months.  Most people will be baffled about what they are, but everyone uses them in all the “high tech” devices that permeate modern society.  TVs, computers, cell phones, flash memory drives, hybrids and all electric cars, trucks , uses REEs  ( the benchmark of the hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius, uses 60 pounds per car).  This article I “stole” from the Natural Defense University  (NDU) Press’s Joint Force Quarterly (JFQ) October 2010 edition.    Unfortunately I still cannot seem to get the accompanying photos with the text.  It is worth it to follow the link to get the photos with the text.   The link is

I intend to post some follow ups on REEs in the future, so check back!

By Cindy A. Hurst – Lieutenant Commander Cindy A. Hurst, USNR, is a Research Analyst in the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

On February 4, 2010, nearly 2 weeks after the Obama administration unveiled a $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan, a Chinese article posted on an online Chinese Communist Party–connected daily newspaper site, as well as on many Chinese blogs and military news sources, suggested banning the sale of rare earth elements (REEs) to U.S. companies as retribution.1 There was already ample Western concern about potential diminishing access to supplies of REEs, particularly after a 2009 draft report written by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, ytterbium, thulium, and lutetium, and a restriction of neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum exports.2 The report immediately caused an uproar among rare earth buyers because China produces approximately 97 percent of the world’s REEs. While there are sources of rare earth around the world, it could take anywhere from 10 to 15 years from the time of discovery to begin a full-scale rare earth operation.

REEs are important to hundreds of high-tech applications, including critical military-based technologies such as precisionguided weapons and night-vision goggles. In exploring the idea of global military might, China appears to be holding an unlikely trump card. The country’s grasp on the rare earth element industry could one day give China a strong technological advantage and increase its military superiority. This article focuses on rare earth elements and their importance to military technology. It also demonstrates how China’s research and development programs, coupled with its vast reserves of REEs, have the potential to make the country a dominant force in the world.


REEs are those chemical elements on the periodic table having atomic numbers 57 through 71 (known as the lanthanides), scandium, and yttrium (atomic numbers 21 and 39). Scandium and yttrium are generally grouped with the lanthanides because of their similar properties and because they are normally found within the same deposits when mined.

The term rare earth is actually a misnomer; these elements are not rare at all, being found in low concentrations throughout the Earth’s crust and in higher concentrations in certain minerals. REEs can be found in almost all massive rock formations. However, their concentrations range from ten to a few hundred parts per million by weight. Therefore, finding them where they can be economically mined and processed presents a challenge.

For at least the past five decades, international scientists and engineers have understood the importance of REEs to military technology. For some, the topic of rare earth has even been shrouded in secrecy. For example, in Russia, REEs were once considered a national secret, with little mention being made about them prior to 1993. Their secret applications were long confined to those organizations, such as the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, Ministry of Nuclear Energy, and Ministry of Nonferrous Metallurgy, that were responsible for the research, design, and production of military equipment and weapons systems. The reason for their secrecy was simple. More than 80 percent of the rare earth industry went into the former Soviet Union’s defense systems.3

Today, many foreign and domestic analysts view REEs as a key factor in developing modern military technology. For example, one Chinese article attributed “night vision instruments with the REE lanthanum” as a “source of the overwhelming dominance of U.S. military tanks during the Gulf War.”4 In China, REEs have been described as a “treasure trove” of new material and the “vitamins of modern industry.”5 REEs have also been described as “materials of the future.”6

In 1993, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, first deputy director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, reportedly sent a letter about REEs to Oleg Soskovets, the Russian Federation’s first vice premier, saying, “We have been receiving information indicating that advanced industrial countries are making increasing use of REEs due to progress in creating and developing qualitatively new, specialized materials with them that increase the critical parameter values of high technology products in the fields of rocket-space and aviation, microelectronics, and electrical engineering.”7

Not only are REEs used to greatly improve the qualities and properties in the metallurgy industry, they are also used in the fields of lasers, fluorescents, magnets, fiber optic communications, hydrogen energy storage, and superconducting materials— all key technologies that have been successfully applied to modern militaries.8

Military Applications

Of course, not all REEs are created equal. Some experts predict that by 2015 there will be a shortage of neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium, while supplies of europium, erbium, and yttrium could become tight.9 The neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets are so strong that they are ideal for the miniaturization of a variety of technologies, including possible nanotechnologies. Many solid state lasers use neodymium due to its optimal selection of absorption and emitting wavelengths. Consumption of neodymium is expected to increase significantly as more wind turbines come online. Wind may be “free,” but some of the newer generation wind turbines use up to two tons of these magnets. Terbium and dysprosium can be additives to enhance the coercivity in NdFeB magnets.10 Yttrium is used, along with neodymium, in lasers. Europium is the most reactive of the REEs. Along with its current use in phosphors for fluorescent lamps and television/computer screens, it is being studied for possible use in nuclear reactors.11 Erbium is used as an amplifier for fiber optic data transmission. It has also been finding uses in nuclear applications and metallurgy. For example, adding erbium to vanadium, a metal used in nuclear applications and high-speed tools, lowers the hardness and improves the workability of the metal.

Samarium is another REE used in military applications. Samarium is combined with cobalt to create a permanent magnet with the highest resistance to demagnetization of any material known. Because of its ability to withstand higher temperatures without losing its magnetism, it is essential in both aerospace and military applications. Precision-guided munitions use samarium-cobalt (SmCo) permanent magnet motors to direct the flight control surfaces (fins). SmCo can also be used as part of stealth technology in helicopters to create white noise to cancel or hide the sound of the rotor blades. These magnets are used in defense radar systems as well as in several types of electronic countermeasure equipment, such as the Tail Warning Function.12

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, substitutes are available for many rare earth applications, but they are generally less effective. 13 Steven Duclos, chief scientist with General Electric Global Research asserts, “There’s no question that rare earths do have some properties that are fairly unique, but for many applications these properties are not so unique that you cannot find similar properties in other materials. [REEs] are just better, from either a weight, strength, or optical property and that’s why people have moved to them.” Duclos went on to explain, “It always comes down to a tradeoff. You can build a motor that does not have rare earth permanent magnets in it. It will be bigger and heavier for a given amount of power or torque that you want.”14

Some scientists argue that in many cases, while there may be substitutes, the tradeoff would diminish military superiority. According to George Hadjipanayis, a Richard B. Murray Chair Professor of Physics at the University of Delaware, the alnico and ferrite magnets, the first two permanent magnets ever produced, do not have rare earth in them and their performance is much lower. Hadjipanayis is currently working with a group of researchers to develop a “next generation magnet” that will be stronger than either the NdFeB or SmCo magnets. The project is being conducted using a three-tiered approach:15

  • The University of Nebraska is striving to develop a permanent magnet that does not require rare earth.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory in Iowa is pursuing options that might use new materials based on combinations of rare earths, transition metals, and possibly other elements that have not been used with magnets before.
  • The University of Delaware is striving to create a new magnetic material that is based on an idea of “nano-composite” magnets. It is a complex process that could slash the use of neodymium or samarium in magnets by 30 or 40 percent.16

Rare earth permanent magnets constitute the widest use of REEs. In the 1960s, the United States was number one in the research and development of magnets. The Nation enjoyed many technological breakthroughs until about the early 1980s. Since the discovery of the NdFeB magnet in 1983, research and development in the United States has been relatively flat.17

Chinese Influence

The Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California, owned by Molycorp Minerals, was once the largest rare earth supplier in the world. Through the 1990s, however, China’s exports of rare earth elements grew, causing prices worldwide to plunge. This undercut business for Molycorp and other producers around the world, and eventually either drove them out of business or significantly reduced production efforts. According to sources within the industry, rare earth deposits in the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa could be mined by 2014.18 Some experts, such as Professor Jean-Claude Bunzli from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, argue that the quantities of rare earth in military technology are low enough that diminishing supplies from China should not be an issue due to Western mining operations coming on line soon. Still, even if plans to open up new and renewed Western operations do come through, the bigger issue may well be China’s growing emphasis in the research and development of REEs, as compared to U.S. efforts, which have decreased dramatically.

The United States paved the way for many of today’s modern technologies that China is now capable of exploiting. Part of that effort has entailed scientists focusing on and dissecting the properties and uses of REEs. From about the 1940s to the 1990s, REEs attracted interest in both the U.S. and Chinese academic and scientific communities. Today, however, there are only a small handful of scientists who truly focus on REEs in the United States.

China, on the other hand, has established entire laboratories and teams devoted to the study of REEs. It has various highprofile national programs, such as Program 863 (National High-tech Research and Development) and Program 973 (National Basic Research). While these programs were not put into place to specifically support rare earth– based projects, they are important to China’s rare earth industry. These programs offer millions of dollars of government funding for military and civilian research projects that are meant to narrow the technological gap between China and the rest of the world and to give China a foothold in the world arena. China has a keen forward thinking ability. Its planners pinpoint a potential problem or strength years in advance. Then over time, the country begins to build a strong foundation to achieve its end goal. In 1992, during his visit to Bayan Obo, China’s largest rare earth mine, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping declared, “There is oil in the Middle East; there is rare earth in China.”19 Seven years later, President Jiang Zemin wrote, “Improve the development and application of rare earth, and change the resource advantage into economic superiority.”20 Wang Minggin and Dou Xuehong, both from the China Rare Earth Information Center at the Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earth in Inner Mongolia, published a paper in 1996 entitled “The History of China’s Rare Earth Industry.” They wrote, “China’s abrupt rise in its status as a major producer, consumer, and supplier of rare earths and rare earth products is the most important event of the 1980s in terms of development of rare earths.”21

China knew what it had even before the 1990s. The country established the General Research Institute for Nonferrous Metals in 1952. In the 1950s, the Bayan Obo mine was built and operated as the iron ore base of the Baotou Iron and Steel Company. In the late 1950s, China began recovering rare earths during the process of producing iron and steel. Since the 1960s, China has emphasized maximizing the use of Bayan Obo, which is located in Inner Mongolia, 80 miles north of Baotou. This effort included employing people to find more effective ways to recover the rare earths. Along with trying to improve separation techniques, China also began other research and development efforts. In 1963, they established the Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earths.

There are two state key laboratories in China: the State Key Laboratory of Rare Earth Materials Chemistry and Applications, which is affiliated with Peking University in Beijing; and the State Key Laboratory of Rare Earth Resource Utilization, in Changchun, in the northern province of Jilin.

Globally, there are two journals dedicated to the research and study of REEs: the Journal of Rare Earth and China Rare Earth Information (CREI) Journal, both put out by the Chinese Society of Rare Earths. The society was founded in 1980 and comprises tens of thousands of registered scientific and technical researchers of rare earths.22 The number of U.S. scientists devoted to the research and study of REEs today pales in comparison to the vast number in China.

Meanwhile, China had been looking at ways to effectively use REEs in military applications as far back as the early 1960s, when its weapons industry began applied research in the areas of armor and artillery steel. The country produced special rare earth armor steels that became beneficial in manufacturing tanks. In the mid-1960s, China created rare earth carbon steel, the transverse impact value of which was a 70 to 100 percent improvement over the raw carbon steel originally used. Firing tests on the shooting range proved that large-caliber cartridges made with the rare earth armor steels were able to fully meet technical requirements.23

Since 1963, China has been using rare earth ductile iron in mortar projectiles, which was said to have doubled or tripled the dynamic properties of the projectiles, increasing the number of effective kill fragments several times over and sharpening the fragment edges, which greatly improved the kill power. Prior to using the rare earth ductile iron in mortar projectiles, China used semisteel made from high-quality pig iron with 30 to 40 percent scrap steel as the material for pre-chambers of projectile bodies. These older projectile body pre-chambers proved to be much lower in strength, were highly brittle, and produced few effective kill fragments after detonation. In addition, they were not sharp.24

Rare earth magnesium alloys are fairly strong and lightweight, making them ideal for aircraft. The China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) has reportedly developed 10 brands of rare earth magnesium alloys. For example, the “ZM6″cast magnesium alloy, which has neodymium as the main rare earth additive, is being used extensively in such functions as the casings for rear brakes on helicopters, ribs for fighter wings, and rotor lead plates for 30-kilowatt generators. Another high-strength rare earth magnesium alloy, known as “BM25,” which was jointly developed by AVIC and China’s Nonferrous Metal Corporation, has replaced some mediumstrength aluminum alloys and is being used for attack aircraft.25 China had been looking at ways to effectively use REEs in military applications as far back as the early 1960s

Along with creating more efficient metal alloys, China has carefully studied numerous other uses of REEs, many of which have been used and developed in the United States and by some U.S. allies. These technologies include rare earths as combustibles in bombs; nuclear applications, including military defense, nuclear radiation shielding, and tank thermal radiation shielding technologies; permanent magnets with magnetic properties that are “a hundred times stronger than the magnetic steel used in military equipment in the 1970s”; lasers, including laser rangefinders, laser guidance, and laser communication systems; superconducting materials; sonar; and others.26

In April 2006, Li Zhonghua, a senior engineer, along with Zhang Weiping and Liu Jiaxiang, all from China’s Hunan Rare Earth Materials Research Academy, published a paper entitled “Application and Development Trends of Rare Earth Materials in Modern Military Technology.” After giving a point-bypoint narration on the special roles REEs play in modern technology, the authors concluded that there is a close relationship between rare earths and modern military technology. They also noted that the development of the rare earth industry has greatly pushed forward the overall progress of modern military technology, and the heightening of military technology has in turn driven the flourishing growth of the rare earth industry.27

Most press reports today express concern about the future supply and demand of REEs and China’s tightening supplies due to the country’s own growing domestic needs. Yet there is little mention made regarding China’s research and development efforts, which probably deserve the most attention since research and development is the driving force behind China’s increasing success.

More Players

Seeing the potential that REEs hold in modern technologies has likely fueled research and development in other countries, such as North Korea and Iran. For example, in 1988, North Korea formed the Korea International Chemical Joint Venture Company (other names include Chosun [or Choson] International Chemicals Joint Operation Company) to produce REEs from the mineral monazite. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the plant was reportedly designed to use solvent extraction technology acquired from China’s Yue Long Chemical Plant near Shanghai.28Production began in 1991. The monazite is said to come from the Ch’olsan Uranium Mine near Ch’olsan-kun in P’yong’an Province. The Hamhung plant reportedly has the capacity to process 1,500 tons per year of monazite, from which 400 tons of rare earth metals and oxides can be processed.29

In June 2009, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il visited the Hamhung Semiconductor Materials Factory and the Hamhung Branch of the State Academy of Sciences, where he stressed the need to boost production capacity and the need to accelerate technical updating of the factory to increase the production of rare earth metals. During a campaign to build up the country’s research efforts, Kim visited several areas and spoke to the scientists and technicians of the Hamhung Branch. He was accompanied by members of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, including Ju Kyu Chang, a member of the National Defense Commission and First Vice Director of the Ministry of Defense Industry, and the department directors in Organization and Instruction, Financial Planning, and Administration.30

Iran has also embarked on research and development efforts. As early as 1998, its Laser Research Center is believed to have been producing indigenous neodyn [neodymium] yttrium-aluminum (Nd:YAG) lasers, using laser crystals.31

In Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Alexander Portnov, a professor specializing in geological and mineral sciences, wrote, “There can be no talk of developing nanotechnology if the country does not produce and use rare elements.” Portnov argues that a country’s extraction, production, and use of rare metals needed for technological innovation are “a precise indicator of its scientific and technical development.”32

It is possible that suitable alternatives to REEs could one day be discovered. In the meantime, however, REEs are critical to many modern technologies. China has recognized the value of REEs for over five decades. While the United States today leads in technological innovation, China’s position in the rare earth industry and its vast reserves and ability to mine and produce them, coupled with its intense research and development efforts, could one day give it a decisive advantage in military-based technologies. The U.S. military must plan for this eventuality and take appropriate actions today if it expects to maintain its lead in military technology. JFQ


1 Wang Dake, “Consider Banning the Sale of Rare Earth as Sanctions Against U.S. Companies,” Shanghai Dongfang Zaobao [Chinese], February 4, 2010, available at
2 Articles discussing the report stated that yttrium was one of the elements expected to be banned. This is likely an error. Ytterbium is much less abundant than yttrium. See Ambrose Evans- Pritchard, “World Faces Hi-Tech Crunch as China Eyes Ban on Rare Metal Exports,” Telegraph, August 24, 2009.
3 “Russia’s Rare Earth, By Way of Prologue: Two Quotes from One Letter,” Interfax AIF, January 29, 1999.
4 “Chinese Government Wins Initial Success in Fight to Protect Tungsten, Antimony, and Rare Earth Elements,” Chinese Government Net [Chinese], May 7, 2009.
5 Li Zhonghua, Zhang Weiping, and Liu Jiaxiang, “Application and Development Trends of Rare Earth Materials in Modern Military Technology,” Hunan Rare-Earth Materials Research Academy [Chinese], April 16, 2006.
6 “Russia’s Rare Earth, By Way of Prologue.”
7 Ibid.
8 Li, Zhang, and Liu.
9 Robin Bromby, “Caution, Rare Earths Ahead,” The Australian, April 26, 2010, available
10 Magnets will lose their magnetism at certain elevated temperatures. Neodymium can only be used at near room temperatures. Adding the terbium or dysprosium gives it a higher coercivity, which allows the magnet to withstand higher temperatures before losing magnetism.
11 Europium sesquioxide (Eu203) has been tested as neutron absorbers for control rods in (fast breeder) nuclear reactors. Jean-Claude Bunzli, email correspondence with author, April 29, 2010.
12 James B. Hedrick, “Rare Earths in Selected U.S. Defense Applications,” paper presented at the 40th Forum on the Geology of Industrial Minerals, Bloomington, IN, May 2–7, 2004.
13 “Rare Earth,” U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2009, 131.
14 Steven Duclos, telephone interview with author, March 2, 2010.
15 Jeremy Hsu, “Scientists Race to Engineer a New Magnet for Electronics,” Live Science, April 10, 2010.
16 Ibid.
17 For more information on the history of China’s rare earth industry, read Cindy A. Hurst, China’s Rare Earth Elements Industry: What Can the West Learn? (Washington, DC: Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, March 2010), available at
18 “Rare Earth Materials in the Defense Supply Chain,” Government Accountability Office in response to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Pub. L. No. 111-84), April 14, 2010.
19 “Rare Earth: An Introduction,” Baotou National Rare-Earth Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone, accessed April 28, 2010.
20 Ibid.
21 Wang Minggin and Dou Xuehong, “The History of China’s Rare Earth Industry,” in Episodes from the History of the Rare Earth Elements, ed. C.H. Evans (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996), 131–147.
22 According to the China’s Society of Rare Earths Web site, there are more than 100,000 “registered experts.” However, approximately onequarter to one-third of these “experts” are likely administrative personnel.
23 Li, Zhang, and Liu.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid.
28 Solvent extraction technology was originally developed in the United States, then bettered by the French company Rhône Poulenc, which became Rhodia. In the 1980s and 1990s, this was the best separation technology available. Eventually, after much hesitation, Rhodia transferred the technology to Baotou under the form of a joint venture in Baotou, China.
29 James B. Hedrick, “Rare Earths,” U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Yearbook, 2002, 61.7.
30 “Kim Jong Il Provides Field Guidance to Factory and Scientific Institution,” KCNA, June 30, 2009, available at
31 The original source of this information breaks out Nd:YAG as neodymium:ytterbiumaluminum garnet lasers. This is likely inaccurately depicted since the Nd:YAG is produced with yttrium, and not ytterbium. See Charles D. Ferguson and Jack Boureston, “IAEA Pubs Iranian Laser- Enrichment Technology in the Spotlight,” Jane’s Regional Security Issues, June 18, 2004. 32 Alexander Portnov, “The Metallic Aftertaste of Scientific Progress,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 10, 2008.