Fri | Feb 21, 2020

Revisiting Bauxite

Published:Sunday | June 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The book cover of Jamaican Bauxite.
Glenville Ashby

Book: Jamaican Bauxite: A Retrospective

Author: Anthony R.D. Porter

Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD

Jamaican Bauxite: A Retrospective explores the unique natural resource of a Caribbean nation. Anthony R.D Porter's exhaustively detailed work is presented with academic rigour and analytic depth. A work of geological importance and an invaluable pedagogical tool for educators, the author recounts the origin, systemisation, and trajectory of his work that involved "countless site visits and field trips over the past 40 years to every mining operation ... ."

No doubt, Jamaican Bauxite will enjoy immediate resonance among scientists, researchers, and students of this highly specialised discipline.

Any material with an overriding emphasis on facts and technical data might prove a laborious read. Porter minimises that risk with a glossary of terms, abbreviating the geological history of the region, and by simplifying the alluvial, residual by and volcanic ash theories. Throughout, the author ably sustains the interest of readers. This we can attribute to the indissoluble role this resource has played in the economic viability of a nation.

Jamaican Bauxite comes replete with tables, maps, and high-resolution topographic photos that include lacustrine marl overlying bauxite in Manchester; white limestone gravel deposits in Bona Vista, St Elizabeth; and a limestone gravel bed in Melrose.

The reader is also served with vividly coloured photos of bone-white and bone-white to beige bauxite, yellow-brown bauxite, and variegated bauxite.

Porter's work is well structured, delivering a brief look at mining as early as the colonial era.

He writes that before the contemporary strip mining method, "bauxite was used in conjunction with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2 by the early Spanish settlers ... to make Murat for building purposes, a practice that was also carried on by the British".

Rural edifices, in particular, speak of this past. And, although for the most part replaced, this method is still marginally employed in some reconstructive work.

There is much to garner from this work. Jamaican bauxite, we learn, is characterised by its dark-red brown colour with "little variation in shade", except in some areas, especially "in the block-faulted valley extending from Williamsfield in the parish of Manchester, northwards through Kendal to Mile Gully and beyond, where there are "extensive deposits of yellow to yellow-brown bauxite".

From Jamaica's geological past to contemporary geoeconomics, Porter seamlessly traverses bauxite's defining history on the island.

He chronicles modern mining, which began with Alcan, Kaiser, and Reynolds in the 1950s, and Alcoa, Alpart, and Revere (all foreign companies) two decades later. Production soared exponentially from 300,000 to 15 millions tonnes. And during that period, and beyond, there have been large-scale investments, expansions, mergers, and acquisitions.

Based on calculations by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (formed to monitor the industry), "the total bauxite resources (reserves plus unavailable, uneconomic, and inferred deposits) were estimated to be between 2.0-2.5 billion tonnes".

Porter makes mention of mining and environmental concerns, elucidating that " ... Jamaica's bauxite reserves and resources are estimated to exceed 1 billion tonnes, but a significant percentage of this is either privately owned or in environmentally sensitive areas and not readily available for mining".

The reader will be remiss to ignore the underlying socio-political implications for any bauxite-laden nation. Not unlike other natural resources, bauxite, well exploited, can make for sustainability and veritable sovereignty.

The extent to which bauxite has efficiently engineered Jamaica's economy is debatable and well outside the scope of this book. And, so too, is the nation's long-standing efforts towards economic diversification. Still, foreign capital and transfer of technology, vis-a-vis Jamaica bauxite, cannot be ignored.

Jamaican Bauxite: A

Retrospective by Anthony

R.D. Porter

Publisher: iMagiNation

Books, 2017

Mona Technology Park

UWI, Mona Campus

ISBN: 978-976-95806-8-8

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