Rare Earths: Atmospheric Signatures for Oil-Fired Power Plants and Refineries

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Science  06 Sep 1985:
Vol. 229, Issue 4717, pp. 966-968
DOI: 10.1126/science.229.4717.966


The concentration pattern of rare earth elements on fine airborne particles (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) is distorted from the crustal abundance pattern in areas influenced by emissions from oil-fired plants and refineries. For example, the ratio of lanthanum to samarium is often greater than 20 compared to a crustal ratio less than 6. The unusual pattern apparently results from the distribution of rare earths in zeolite catalysts used in refining oil. Oil industry emissions perturb the rare earth pattern even at remote locations such as the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Rare earth ratios are probably better for long-range tracing of oil emissions than vanadium and nickel concentrations because the ratios of rare earths on fine particles are probably not influenced by deposition and other fractionating processes. Emissions from oil-fired plants can be differentiated from those of refineries on an urban scale by the much smaller amounts of vanadium in the latter.