Kvanefjeld Minerals - The Fluorescent Minerals of Greenland – Part 3
We will divide this blog into a 5 series post with a focus on the following areas:
- Overview of Greenland and the Fluorescent Minerals from this Locality
- Taseq Slope Minerals
- Kvanefjeld Minerals
- Tunuliarfik Minerals
- Kangerlussaq Minerals
In Kvanefjeld is the site of a prominent mineral deposit located in southern Greenland. It is primarily known for its significant reserves of rare earth elements (REEs) and uranium. The site is situated near the town of Narsaq in the Kujalleq municipality.
Kvanefjeld Mountain (700m) is located at the NW corner of the Ilimaussaq Complex. An old mining road crosses the 15km from Narsaq to the valley between Kvanefjeld and the Taseq Slopes. This road gradually climbs 300 meters and then becomes impassable. It is then a nice hike up to the 500 meter level via an old mine access road to an (abandoned) uranium mine. From this point a “trail” leads to the summit of Kvanefjeld, “rock climbing” the last 200 meters. The difficulty is average and not particularly difficult if you are in reasonable shape. The vertical slope is gradual, and mainly consists of following a well-worn trail, while climbing over large pieces of sodalite and lujavrite.
Atop Kvanefjeld one is greeted with a wonderful view of the valley below, Narsaq in the distance, and the iceberg dotted fjords. It is easy to spend the entire day exploring the relatively flat areas at the top, and digging through the years of tailings that the locals have amassed while searching for gem red tugtupite. The main tugtupite mining area is located a short walk to the west and is littered with snow-white pieces of albite and analcime (many actually are white tugtupite). Most pieces glow bright red under SW UV. Occasionally one will meet a local miner pounding away at a white vein in an effort to pry loose some bright red “tutupit”. In recent years gem tugtupite has become quite scarce. Over the 2003 summer season very few pieces were found, bringing the cabochon industry to a virtual halt.
Tugtupite – The tugtupite from the Kvanefjeld area is the most widely known fluorescent mineral from Ilimaussaq. It is typically a bright gemmy red and is the source for the gem material used in making beautiful tugtupite cabochons. A typical piece of gem tugtupite will be found in an analcime and lujavrite matrix, probably along with aegirine crystals. The natural color ranges from a light pink to a deep cherry red. Under shortwave the red glow is unmistakable. Commonly associated (fluorescent) minerals include chkalovite, beryllite, and sorensenite.
Photo above shows tugtupite (red), chkalovite (green), beryllite (bluish-white).
Chkalovite – Chkalovite was one of the first of the beryllium minerals to form in the intrusion. Tugtupite is often found replacing chkalovite and the resulting specimens can be found throughout the complex. The ones from the Kvanefjeld area often glow a brilliant green. Massive crystals of green fluorescent chkalovite have been enclosed in circles of brilliantly red fluorescent tugtupite – resulting in a spectacular fluorescent. Chkalovite is usually associated with many of the rare minerals in the complex and is a good indicator of the presence of other minerals - such as ussingite, tugtupite, and sodalite.
Photo on the left shows chkalovite crystal (green under shortwave) enclosed in tugtupite (red).
A single locale mineral, only found within the Ilimaussaq Complex. White to pale pink bladed crystals fluoresce a yellow/white under SW UV (medium intensity). Large aggregates on a lujavrite/analcime matrix have been found in the Kvanefjeld area. Most spectacular are the very rare specimens of tugtupite and sorensenite combined.
When you can find sorensenite crystals - are usually found as a nodule, flat in the middle of a giant boulder, with no options to extract them. Power tools are required to drill, blast and saw to obtain matrix pieces of any size. Photo below shows a tour group member mining for sorensenite.
Sodalite – The sodalite from the Kvanefjeld area is (to date) unremarkable with only a couple of exceptions. Typically it appears to be of a coarser texture (very few pieces of pure sodalite – usually mixed with aegirine and syenite). The fluorescence is a duller orange than those found in other areas of the complex. A blue sodalite was recently found which, while not impressive as a fluorescent specimen (similar to those from Mt St Hilaire in brightness), the tenebrescence is quite remarkable. When exposed to shortwave UV light, the beautiful blue sodalite color darkens to a purple, a very unique hue compared to other tenebrescent sodalite pieces from Greenland.
Beryllite is a very rare mineral, only found in two locations: Kola, Russia and Greenland. One of the minerals that is thought to be responsible for the varied unusual fluorescent responses of the Ilimaussaq finds. There has been a lot of confusion about the fluorescence of this mineral. Most often it is found as a soft, white chalky encrustation on pieces such as tugtupite, fluorescent a medium intensity gray/white. Since beryllium is undetectable by EDS, verifying the presence in various minerals has proven a challenge.
In our early days of exploration of the Ilimaussaq Complex we assumed beryllite to be fluorescent green - we had read in one book on fluorescence that was the case, and it seemed that general wisdom of the day confirmed it. But over the years we learned that most of the green fluorescing minerals we found were either chkalovite or a uranyl activated fluorescence. One of the very learned members of our team discovered that beryllite fluoresced a grayish/blue, or gray/white. With this in mind, the hunt was on. Little did we know how very rare this mineral was!
Over the years we kept our eyes out for this mineral. The few pieces we found consisted of a white chalky coating on albite/tugtupite mixes found on Kvanefjeld. We came across this piece in our inventory and noticed the beryllite right away. While it wasn't too big to start, we decided to split it anyway on the off chance we could expose a fresh face. We were rewarded with a fine jumble of beryllite crystals, along with some beautiful, pink, glassy clear tugtupite crystals (unheard of - a faceter's dream!). Sadly, a microscope is required to really appreciate these beauties. One half is photographed here and the other half has a permanent home in my Greenland collection.
The future of Kvanefjeld and the Kvanefjeld Project
The potential development of the Kvanefjeld deposit has sparked both interest and controversy. Proponents of the project highlight the economic benefits it could bring to Greenland, as it could provide a source of income and job opportunities for the local population. However, there are also concerns about the environmental and social impacts of mining and processing rare earth elements and uranium. Environmental concerns include radioactive waste, water pollution and habitat disruption.
The Kvanefjeld deposit is considered one of the largest and richest REE deposits in the world. It contains a variety of rare earth minerals, with the most prominent being bastnäsite and monazite. In addition to rare earth elements, the deposit also contains significant amounts of uranium, which is used as fuel in nuclear power plants.
Rare earth elements are a group of 17 chemically similar elements that have a wide range of applications in various modern technologies, including electronics, renewable energy systems, and defense technologies. They are essential for the production of high-tech devices such as smartphones, electric vehicle batteries, and advanced medical equipment.
As of September 2021, discussions and debates around the Kvanefjeld project were ongoing, and decisions regarding its development were still being considered. For the most current information, we recommend checking reliable news sources or official government statements.
In our next blog post, we’ll cover Tunuliarfik and its minerals.