Characteristics and origin of sepiolite (Meerschaum) from Central Somalia
Nearly pure sepiolite clay crops out in a playa-like depression near El Bur, Central Plateau region of Somalia. The deposit is associated with the Lower to Mid-Eocene Taleh Formation that includes, besides limestone, dolomite and gypsiferous marls, extensive anhydrite and various evaporites, primarily gypsum. The material was examined by XRD, DTA, IR and EM. The XRD and DTA analyses indicated that from 40 cm down to a depth of 300 cm, the material consists of wellcrystallized sepiolite, accompanied in some layers by minor calcite and traces of quartz and halite. The chemical composition, determined by XRF, indicated a low-Fe mineral, with the formula: (Si11.888Al0.112)(Mg7.313Al0.154Fe0.084)O30(OH)4(OH2)4.x8H2O The fibres, arranged in the form of interwoven mats, are straight and have lengths varying between 2-6 mum and widths of 20-40 nm. Commonly, they are aggregated into units of two parallel-lying fibres, with a random orientation against each other, creating a dense network of pores. The high viscosity and external surface area (306-346 m2g-1) of the material, compared to those of the Spanish Vallecas sepiolite, suggest the high industrial suitability of this clay. The extent of the deposit is not known. Lithology and geomorphology indicate a lacustrine, closed basin evaporative environment of formation for this deposit. In contrast to the palaeolacustrine environments of formation of Spanish and Turkish sepiolite deposits, the El Bur sepiolite apparently is more recent.
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