Serpentines in Nickel Silicate Ore from New Caledonia

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 11
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1996
The nickel ores mined in New Caledonia for one century are mainly silicate ores. These ores are nickel enriched saprolites, formed by partial weathering of peridotites (predominantly harzburgites and some dunites), serpentinised to varying degrees. Saprolites constitute the lower horizon of lateritic soils, sometimes up to 100 metres thick, developed on peneplains now greatly modified by erosion. Saprolites are generally overlain by laterites, a more weathered horizon, where the main components are iron oxy-hydroxides with a low nickel grade. The structure of saprolites depends essentially on the serpentine content of peridotites and, on the other hand, serpentine minerals may have a high nickel content and, so, represent important nickel bearing minerals in silicate ores. Two types of serpentines can be found in nickel ores from New Caledonia: ò primary serpentines, formed by hydration of olivine at temperatures below 400¦C, during overthrusting of peridotites in late-Eocene (Paris, Andreieff and Coudray, 1979), are generally very abundant; ò secondary nickeliferous serpentines, associated with other sheet silicates in garnierites, are now relatively scarce but garnierites were selectively mined one century ago, because of their high nickel grade.
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