Ultramafic rocks, such as the Semail Ophiolite in the Sultanate of Oman, are considered to be a potential storage site for CO2. This type of rock is rich in divalent cations that can react with dissolved CO2 and form carbonate minerals, which remain stable over geological periods of time. Dissolution of the ophiolite mobilizes heavy metals, which can threaten the safety of surface and groundwater supplies but secondary phases, such as iron oxides, clays and carbonate minerals, can take up significant quantities of trace elements both in their structure and adsorbed on their surfaces.
Hyperalkaline spring waters issuing from the Semail Ophiolites can have pH as high as 12. This water absorbs CO2 from air, forming carbonate mineral precipitates either as thin crusts on the surface of placid water pools or bottom precipitates in turbulent waters. We investigated the composition of the spring water and the precipitates to determine the extent of trace element uptake. We collected water and travertine samples from two alkaline springs of the Semail Ophiolite. Twenty seven elements were detected in the spring waters. The bulk of the precipitate was CaCO3 in aragonite, as needles, and rhombohedral calcite crystals. Traces of dypingite (Mg5(CO3)4(OH)2·5H2O) and antigorite ((Mg,Fe)3Si2O5(OH)4) were also detected. The bulk precipitate contained rare earth elements and toxic metals, such as As, Ba, Cd, Sr and Pb, which indicated scavenging by the carbonate minerals. Boron and mercury were detected in the spring water but not in the carbonate phases. The results provide confidence that many of the toxic metals released by ophiolite dissolution in an engineered CO2 injection project would be taken up by secondary phases, minimizing risk to water quality.