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Author: by Viktor KOROTEYEV, Academician, Director of Zavaritsky Geology and Geochemistry Institute, Ural Branch of the RAS
Modernization of this country's economy in the early years of Soviet government, involving large-scale industrialization and rapid development of productive forces called for a comprehensive exploration of natural resources in the country's various regions, and elaboration of scientific recommendations on their fast and rational application. A special role in this all-out effort was assigned to the Ural region, including the Ural Mountains, Russia's oldest mining center, with its enormous natural wealth, including some of unique minerals. The then government leaders and scientists realized this very well.
The late 1920s and early '30s saw giant industrial projects built at Magnitogorsk, Berezniki and Solikamsk, with the Ural Engineering Plant deserving a special mention. New mines and blast furnaces cropped up. Production of iron, copper and gold in the old industries was going up, mines were sunk to recover aluminum, nickel ore, chromites, potassium, sulfur, asbestos, talcum, coal, and many rare metals, and wells were driven to pump oil. Metalworking advanced on a renovated technological basis.
In 1932, the Academy of Sciences held field sessions in Sverdlovsk (today Ekaterinburg) and Novosibirsk to promote closer links between academic science and industry Shortly afterward, a branch of the national Academy of Sciences was set up in the Ural area, under its first chairman, A. Fersman,(*) an Academy member and mineralogist by training.
As one of this nation's leading industrial centers, the Ural was severely short of researchers who could explore its geological structure and sum up the results of previous geological and geophysical studies. To deal with these complex problems at close range, a Geochemistry Institute was set up at the Ural Branch in 1932. Its priority research areas included, above all, theoretical geochemistry and general distribution patterns of chemical elements in the terrestrial crust. Earth sciences were, however, given a real boost in the late 1930s, when the institute was reorganized to an Institute of Mining Geology (headed by Academician Lev Shevyakov). In 1962, it was split into a Geology Institute and a Mining Institute. In 1966, the Academy's Presidium changed the name of the former to the Geology and Geochemistry Institute.
Between 1933 and 1936, the institute's staff researchers carried out and published a series of studies on the geochemistry of basic magmas, minerals of the Ilmen Mountains, and comprehensive utilization of coals of the Chelyabinsk fields. Also at that time, the beginnings were laid for new methods of mineral prospecting and exploration. As a result of these efforts, copper pyrites were discovered at Sibai, the country's largest deposits, along with bauxite fields at Kamensk Uralsky, Alapayevsk- Rezhevsk, and in the Northern Urals, in 1940, and prospects were evaluated for the fuel and energy industries in the region (in particular, at the coal fields at Chelyabinsk, Kizelovsk, and elsewhere).
During the war with Germany in 1941-1945, the institute switched its research focus to ways to speed up the exploration and exploitation of mineral resources for the country's defense needs, by turning the Ural region into the nation's key mining and industrial center. In particular, blueprints and
* For more, see: S. Pshirkov, "The Think Tank of the Urals", Science in Russia, No. 2, W.-Ed.
research papers on niobium in the Cherry Mountains were handed over to a local rare metals concern for pilot operation. Mining of osmiridium and zirconium began in the Middle Urals, on the basis of forecasts drawn up by the institute's researchers. Many local iron-copper and iron ore fields were surveyed in an attempt to appraise the content of cobalt in them. In that period, too, prospecting for mercury started in the region, and the discoveries made enabled gold winning operations to be launched at the Ayatsk, Isovo, and Egorshino gold fields.
Between 1945 and 1955, major breakthroughs were achieved in the geological exploration of the Urals' lean iron ores, the enormous reserves of which had been known with certainty, but were not used on a commercial scale. The key structural specifics of the Kachkanar landmass were studied, however, and relationships established between its titanium-magnetite ores and its banded schistose rocks. An ore dressing plant was later built here.
A close analysis of in-depth metamorphism helped prospectors reveal previously unknown manifestations of copper pyrite deposits: in some areas, the process affected vulcanites dating from the pre-folding stage of the Ural syncline (the rock layers dipping inward from both sides toward the Earth's center). This discovery promoted and expanded knowledge about the reserves locked up in old deposits (in Siberia, at Gai and Uchalin).
Structural patterns of many native gold deposits were clarified, along with the potential oil and gas bearing capacity of the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains and the adjoining areas of the West Siberian Plain. Simultaneously, promising estimates were obtained for the Northern Sosievo lignite fields (at present, their borders have extended far beyond those estimates: in addition to the Jurassic coals known at that time, the area contains considerable reserves of Upper Triassic coals and Chelyabinsk grade bauxites).
In 1955 to 1970, the institute's researchers worked to improve basic knowledge of principles employed in prospecting for critical minerals. To this
end, they had to retrace the history of the terrestrial crust in the area and explore the forces that formed and distributed iron ores, bauxites, copper pyrites and gold in the local crust. They could show, on completing their studies, that commercial reserves of hyper-gene ores (forming on the Earth's surface) of nickel, iron ores with traces of chromium and nickel, and bauxites were associated with vast structural zones-in- depth fractures inherited by Mesozoic structures. Also, significant breakthroughs were made in studies of volcanism in the Urals, their results being applicable to all other paleovolcanic areas. On this basis, the researchers have established and described general patterns and occurrence of copper, iron, and rare ores(*) in volcanic rock associations of particular composition. Also, concurrent geo-chemical studies of ultrabasic rocks (magnesium-rich igneous rocks) identified areas with a promise of chromites for prospectors. Finally, a link was established from the Lower Mesozoic (Triassic) coal-bearing troughs and the thickest weathering crust of the same period to basement structures (that is, deep-lying faults), so scientists could identify promising areas of coal, bauxites and iron ores genetically associated with the ancient weathering crust.
In hydrogeology, the most significant breakthrough was made in developing a method to protect bauxite mines from surface and subterranean water in the Middle Urals and hydrochemical principles of prospecting for copper pyrite deposits in the Southern Urals. Besides, generalization of the available vast material was enormously helpful in the making of a hydrogeological map of the Ural and neighboring areas, which subsequently served as a starting point for forecasts of large quantities of subterranean water.
The principal problem, in which the institute's efforts under Alexander Peive, a full member of the Academy, and Svyatoslav Ivanov, a corresponding member, were focused in 1970 to 1975, was developing a novel geotectonic and petrological theory to promote an understanding of the Urals' metallogeny. The researchers advanced a hypothesis and made a geodynamic tectonic map, the first in the world, some 20 to 30 years before any projects of this kind were unveiled in developed countries.
Alexander Dymkin, a corresponding member of the Academy, and Yuri Poltavets, working for the institute in 1975 to 1980, came up with a polygenic theory to explain the formation of iron, copper pyrite and complex metal ores, which allowed geologists to apply unconventional prospecting techniques. They demonstrated stage by stage formation of ore deposits and the possibility of such deposits being discovered at depths of 1,000 to 1,500 m. On the basis of specialized hydrogeological studies, they suggested widespread occurrence of carbonaceous thermal water springs, of the world-famous Essentuki type, which are utterly uncommon for the Ural region.
In the years that followed, the institute's scientists drew up a model to illustrate the formation of commercial quantities of gold accumulating within the mineralization mantle of the terrestrial crust and its polychronous heterogeneous development, and offered criteria for exploration and local forecasting of gold deposits. They discovered a new type of gold-silver-tellurium deposits, previously unknown in the Ural region, which are associated with Permian tectomagmatic activity zones. They have succeeded in proving the main ore body of the Kempersai land-mass, which contains unique reserves of chromium ores, to be the nation's largest repository of osmium, iridium, and ruthenium, contained in recoverable form (up to 30 percent) in sulfides, sulfoarsenides, arsenides and solid solutions (over a dozen mineral kinds and varieties), including minerals in iridium
* See: A.. Kremenevsky, "Russia's Strategic Rare Metals", Science in Russia, No. 3. 1999.- Ed.
of the xyngchongite series, the first discovery of this kind in Russia (previously, it occurred in China alone).
The pilot studies of differentiated ore-bearing gabbro rocks in the Volkovo, Kachkanar and Serebrianka landmasses have shown that copper sulfide and copper sulfide-titanium magnetite ores forming in the transitional formative stage of the Ural folded zone are linked with gold-palladium mineralization of commercial value in its own right. Noble metal minerals are represented here by palladium and silver tellurides and palladium-containing gold, in association with chalcopyrite and bornite. The proportion of noble metals rises with increasing content of copper in the ore. A previously unknown type of gold-arsenic polygenous and polychronous mineralization was discovered at the active paleocontinental margin of the Urals, in association with volcano-plutonic complexes of the tectomagmatic activity zone.
In the 1980s, the institute's researchers discovered, for the first time here, widespread occurrence of karst suffosive processes(*) in the eastern Urals. The resulting holes and subsidence cause deformation and collapse of buildings, power dams, and other engineering structures and facilitate penetration of polluted surface water into productive water horizons.
Among the institute's more significant projects completed in the last decade of the 20th century, mention must be made of the following:
The institute's researchers have established and substantiated a protective function the underground hydrosphere performs toward the environment. The biggest role here is played by the layer of fresh water only 50 to 400 m thick, by analogy with the ozone layer in the stratosphere. Regrettably, it has long been exposed to intensive pollution by the region's industries (today, between 30 and 40 percent of this layer is affected by pollution) and destruction. Continued degradation of this protective "film" would make the environmental situation in some of Ural areas even worse.(*)
A new type of copper pyrite deposits, previously unknown in this region, has been discovered among the sedimentary volcanogenic rock masses in the Tagil- Magnitogorsk Depression, which were formed in submarine graben structures (that is, subsided in the faults of the terrestrial crust) on the oceanic crust. This shows that here, too, new areas, holding out high hopes for developers, can be found in territories long considered thoroughly explored and settled.
A first-ever general picture of evolution of chromite-platinum ores in Alpine-type complexes evolved, showing that platinum metals are present in increased, occasionally even high concentrations, in Mesozoic nickel-bearing weathering crusts, so common for the Urals. Their maximum concentrations are associated with agglomerations of manganese minerals. These crusts being the principal mineral source for the Ural's advanced cobalt-nickel industry, they have an enormous importance for recovering platinum metals as byproducts.(*)
* Suffosion is washing out of mineral particles and dissolved elements by water which filter within rock mass.-Ed.
* For more, see: L. Leontyev et al., "Environmental Problems in the Ural", Science in Russia, No. 1, \999.-Ed.
* For more, see: N. Laverov, V. Distler, "Platinum Metals and Russia's Strategic Interests", Science in Russia, No. 4, 1999 .-Ed.
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