The effect of seawater ions presents a great challenge to theories about mechanisms of pyrite oxidation, collector adsorption, and surface reactions. As the use of seawater is key to the sustainability of the mining industry in regions without fresh water, there is a need to study the surfaces of minerals and products that are formed in the presence of seawater salts. In this study, atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to analyze the topography of pyrite surfaces subjected to treatments, including oxidation and exposure to xanthate and solutions of seawater salts and xanthate, at pH 8.5. Topographic details were related to surface products. The results showed that xanthate was adsorbed without hindrance on oxide-free pyrite which validated one well-known model. The results also showed that pyrite oxidized forming a structure of interconnected pillars and that xanthate was adsorbed on the top and skirt of these pillars; the experimental evidence on the increase in the height and width of these pillars validated another well-known model. In the presence of seawater salts, the cations covered the surface of the pyrite, suppressing collector adsorption regardless of the dose. The results are expected to help in decisions about the flotation of sulfide minerals in water with limited metallurgical quality.
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