Metamorphic Rock Essay

"Metamorphic" redirects here. For other uses, see Metamorphic (disambiguation).

Metamorphic rocks arise from the transformation of existing rock types, in a process called metamorphism, which means "change in form".[1] The original rock (protolith) is subjected to heat (temperatures greater than 150 to 200 °C) and pressure (150 megapascals (1,500 bar))[clarify],[2] causing profound physical or chemical change. The protolith may be a sedimentary, igneous, or existing metamorphic rock.

Metamorphic rocks make up a large part of the Earth's crust and form 12% of the Earth's land surface.[3] They are classified by texture and by chemical and mineral assemblage (metamorphic facies). They may be formed simply by being deep beneath the Earth's surface, subjected to high temperatures and the great pressure of the rock layers above it. They can form from tectonic processes such as continental collisions, which cause horizontal pressure, friction and distortion. They are also formed when rock is heated by the intrusion of hot molten rock called magma from the Earth's interior. The study of metamorphic rocks (now exposed at the Earth's surface following erosion and uplift) provides information about the temperatures and pressures that occur at great depths within the Earth's crust. Some examples of metamorphic rocks are gneiss, slate, marble, schist, and quartzite.

Metamorphic minerals

Metamorphic minerals are those that form only at the high temperatures and pressures associated with the process of metamorphism. These minerals, known as index minerals, include sillimanite, kyanite, staurolite, andalusite, and some garnet.

Other minerals, such as olivines, pyroxenes, amphiboles, micas, feldspars, and quartz, may be found in metamorphic rocks, but are not necessarily the result of the process of metamorphism. These minerals formed during the crystallization of igneous rocks. They are stable at high temperatures and pressures and may remain chemically unchanged during the metamorphic process. However, all minerals are stable only within certain limits, and the presence of some minerals in metamorphic rocks indicates the approximate temperatures and pressures at which they formed.

The change in the particle size of the rock during the process of metamorphism is called recrystallization. For instance, the small calcite crystals in the sedimentary rock limestone and chalk change into larger crystals in the metamorphic rock marble; in metamorphosed sandstone, recrystallization of the original quartz sand grains results in very compact quartzite, also known as metaquartzite, in which the often larger quartz crystals are interlocked. Both high temperatures and pressures contribute to recrystallization. High temperatures allow the atoms and ions in solid crystals to migrate, thus reorganizing the crystals, while high pressures cause solution of the crystals within the rock at their point of contact.


Main article: foliation (geology)

The layering within metamorphic rocks is called foliation (derived from the Latin word folia, meaning "leaves"), and it occurs when a rock is being shortened along one axis during recrystallization. This causes the platy or elongated crystals of minerals, such as mica and chlorite, to become rotated such that their long axes are perpendicular to the orientation of shortening. This results in a banded, or foliated rock, with the bands showing the colors of the minerals that formed them.

Textures are separated into foliated and non-foliated categories. Foliated rock is a product of differential stress that deforms the rock in one plane, sometimes creating a plane of cleavage. For example, slate is a foliated metamorphic rock, originating from shale. Non-foliated rock does not have planar patterns of strain.

Rocks that were subjected to uniform pressure from all sides, or those that lack minerals with distinctive growth habits, will not be foliated. Where a rock has been subject to differential stress, the type of foliation that develops depends on the metamorphic grade. For instance, starting with a mudstone, the following sequence develops with increasing temperature: slate is a very fine-grained, foliated metamorphic rock, characteristic of very low grade metamorphism, while phyllite is fine-grained and found in areas of low grade metamorphism, schist is medium to coarse-grained and found in areas of medium grade metamorphism, and gneiss coarse to very coarse-grained, found in areas of high-grade metamorphism.[4] Marble is generally not foliated, which allows its use as a material for sculpture and architecture.

Another important mechanism of metamorphism is that of chemical reactions that occur between minerals without them melting. In the process atoms are exchanged between the minerals, and thus new minerals are formed. Many complex high-temperature reactions may take place, and each mineral assemblage produced provides us with a clue as to the temperatures and pressures at the time of metamorphism.

Metasomatism is the drastic change in the bulk chemical composition of a rock that often occurs during the processes of metamorphism. It is due to the introduction of chemicals from other surrounding rocks. Water may transport these chemicals rapidly over great distances. Because of the role played by water, metamorphic rocks generally contain many elements absent from the original rock, and lack some that originally were present. Still, the introduction of new chemicals is not necessary for recrystallization to occur.

Types of metamorphism

Contact metamorphism

Contact metamorphism is the name given to the changes that take place when magma is injected into the surrounding solid rock (country rock). The changes that occur are greatest wherever the magma comes into contact with the rock because the temperatures are highest at this boundary and decrease with distance from it. Around the igneous rock that forms from the cooling magma is a metamorphosed zone called a contact metamorphism aureole. Aureoles may show all degrees of metamorphism from the contact area to unmetamorphosed (unchanged) country rock some distance away. The formation of important ore minerals may occur by the process of metasomatism at or near the contact zone.

When a rock is contact altered by an igneous intrusion it very frequently becomes more indurated, and more coarsely crystalline. Many altered rocks of this type were formerly called hornstones, and the term hornfels is often used by geologists to signify those fine grained, compact, non-foliated products of contact metamorphism. A shale may become a dark argillaceous hornfels, full of tiny plates of brownish biotite; a marl or impure limestone may change to a grey, yellow or greenish lime-silicate-hornfels or siliceous marble, tough and splintery, with abundant augite, garnet, wollastonite and other minerals in which calcite is an important component. A diabase or andesite may become a diabase hornfels or andesite hornfels with development of new hornblende and biotite and a partial recrystallization of the original feldspar. Chert or flint may become a finely crystalline quartz rock; sandstones lose their clastic structure and are converted into a mosaic of small close-fitting grains of quartz in a metamorphic rock called quartzite.

If the rock was originally banded or foliated (as, for example, a laminated sandstone or a foliated calc-schist) this character may not be obliterated, and a banded hornfels is the product; fossils even may have their shapes preserved, though entirely recrystallized, and in many contact-altered lavas the vesicles are still visible, though their contents have usually entered into new combinations to form minerals that were not originally present. The minute structures, however, disappear, often completely, if the thermal alteration is very profound. Thus small grains of quartz in a shale are lost or blend with the surrounding particles of clay, and the fine ground-mass of lavas is entirely reconstructed.

By recrystallization in this manner peculiar rocks of very distinct types are often produced. Thus shales may pass into cordierite rocks, or may show large crystals of andalusite (and chiastolite), staurolite, garnet, kyanite and sillimanite, all derived from the aluminous content of the original shale. A considerable amount of mica (both muscovite and biotite) is often simultaneously formed, and the resulting product has a close resemblance to many kinds of schist. Limestones, if pure, are often turned into coarsely crystalline marbles; but if there was an admixture of clay or sand in the original rock such minerals as garnet, epidote, idocrase, wollastonite, will be present. Sandstones when greatly heated may change into coarse quartzites composed of large clear grains of quartz. These more intense stages of alteration are not so commonly seen in igneous rocks, because their minerals, being formed at high temperatures, are not so easily transformed or recrystallized.

In a few cases rocks are fused and in the dark glassy product minute crystals of spinel, sillimanite and cordierite may separate out. Shales are occasionally thus altered by basalt dikes, and feldspathic sandstones may be completely vitrified. Similar changes may be induced in shales by the burning of coal seams or even by an ordinary furnace.

There is also a tendency for metasomatism between the igneous magma and sedimentary country rock, whereby the chemicals in each are exchanged or introduced into the other. Granites may absorb fragments of shale or pieces of basalt. In that case, hybrid rocks called skarn arise, which don't have the characteristics of normal igneous or sedimentary rocks. Sometimes an invading granite magma permeates the rocks around, filling their joints and planes of bedding, etc., with threads of quartz and feldspar. This is very exceptional but instances of it are known and it may take place on a large scale.[5]

Regional metamorphism

Regional metamorphism, also known as dynamic metamorphism, is the name given to changes in great masses of rock over a wide area. Rocks can be metamorphosed simply by being at great depths below the Earth's surface, subjected to high temperatures and the great pressure caused by the immense weight of the rock layers above. Much of the lower continental crust is metamorphic, except for recent igneous intrusions. Horizontal tectonic movements such as the collision of continents create orogenic belts, and cause high temperatures, pressures and deformation in the rocks along these belts. If the metamorphosed rocks are later uplifted and exposed by erosion, they may occur in long belts or other large areas at the surface. The process of metamorphism may have destroyed the original features that could have revealed the rock's previous history. Recrystallization of the rock will destroy the textures and fossils present in sedimentary rocks. Metasomatism will change the original composition.

Regional metamorphism tends to make the rock more indurated and at the same time to give it a foliated, shistose or gneissic texture, consisting of a planar arrangement of the minerals, so that platy or prismatic minerals like mica and hornblende have their longest axes arranged parallel to one another. For that reason many of these rocks split readily in one direction along mica-bearing zones (schists). In gneisses, minerals also tend to be segregated into bands; thus there are seams of quartz and of mica in a mica schist, very thin, but consisting essentially of one mineral. Along the mineral layers composed of soft or fissile minerals the rocks will split most readily, and the freshly split specimens will appear to be faced or coated with this mineral; for example, a piece of mica schist looked at facewise might be supposed to consist entirely of shining scales of mica. On the edge of the specimens, however, the white folia of granular quartz will be visible. In gneisses these alternating folia are sometimes thicker and less regular than in schists, but most importantly less micaceous; they may be lenticular, dying out rapidly. Gneisses also, as a rule, contain more feldspar than schists do, and are tougher and less fissile. Contortion or crumbling of the foliation is by no means uncommon; splitting faces are undulose or puckered. Schistosity and gneissic banding (the two main types of foliation) are formed by directed pressure at elevated temperature, and to interstitial movement, or internal flow arranging the mineral particles while they are crystallizing in that directed pressure field.

Rocks that were originally sedimentary and rocks that were undoubtedly igneous may be metamorphosed into schists and gneisses. If originally of similar composition they may be very difficult to distinguish from one another if the metamorphism has been great. A quartz-porphyry, for example, and a fine feldspathic sandstone, may both be metamorphosed into a grey or pink mica-schist.[5]

Metamorphic rock textures

The five basic metamorphic textures with typical rock types are slaty (includes slate and phyllite; the foliation is called "slaty cleavage"), schistose (includes schist; the foliation is called "schistosity"), gneissose (gneiss; the foliation is called "gneissosity"), granoblastic (includes granulite, some marbles and quartzite), and hornfelsic (includes hornfels and skarn).

See also


External links

  1. ^ entry. Retrieved 14 Jan 2014.
  2. ^Blatt, Harvey and Robert J. Tracy, Petrology, W.H.Freeman, 2nd ed., 1996, p. 355 ISBN 0-7167-2438-3
  3. ^Wilkinson, Bruce H.; McElroy, Brandon J.; Kesler, Stephen E.; Peters, Shanan E.; Rothman, Edward D. (2008). "Global geologic maps are tectonic speedometers – Rates of rock cycling from area-age frequencies". Geological Society of America Bulletin. 121 (5–6): 760–79. doi:10.1130/B26457.1. 
  4. ^Wicander R. & Munroe J. (2005). Essentials of Geology. Cengage Learning. pp. 174–77. ISBN 9780495013655. 
  5. ^ ab One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Petrology". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Metamorphic rock, any of a class of rocks that result from the alteration of preexisting rocks in response to changing environmental conditions, such as variations in temperature, pressure, and mechanical stress, and the addition or subtraction of chemical components. The preexisting rocks may be igneous, sedimentary, or other metamorphic rocks.

The word metamorphism is taken from the Greek for “change of form”; metamorphic rocks are derived from igneous or sedimentary rocks that have altered their form (recrystallized) as a result of changes in their physical environment. Metamorphism comprises changes both in mineralogy and in the fabric of the original rock. In general, these alterations are brought about either by the intrusion of hot magma into cooler surrounding rocks (contact metamorphism) or by large-scale tectonic movements of Earth’s lithospheric plates that alter the pressure-temperature conditions of the rocks (regional metamorphism; see alsoplate tectonics). Minerals within the original rock, or protolith, respond to the changing conditions by reacting with one another to produce a new mineral assemblage that is thermodynamically stable under the new pressure-temperature conditions. These reactions occur in the solid state but may be facilitated by the presence of a fluid phase lining the grain boundaries of the minerals. In contrast to the formation of igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks do not crystallize from a silicate melt, although high-temperature metamorphism can lead to partial melting of the host rock.

Because metamorphism represents a response to changing physical conditions, those regions of Earth’s surface where dynamic processes are most active will also be regions where metamorphic processes are most intense and easily observed. The vast region of the Pacific margin, for example, with its seismic and volcanic activity, is also an area in which materials are being buried and metamorphosed intensely. In general, the margins of continents and regions of mountain building are the regions where metamorphic processes proceed with intensity. But in relatively quiet places, where sediments accumulate at slow rates, less spectacular changes also occur in response to changes in pressure and temperature conditions. Metamorphic rocks are therefore distributed throughout the geologic column.

Because most of Earth’s mantle is solid, metamorphic processes may also occur there. Mantle rocks are seldom observed at the surface because they are too dense to rise, but occasionally a glimpse is presented by their inclusion in volcanic materials. Such rocks may represent samples from a depth of a few hundred kilometres, where pressures of about 100 kilobars (3 million inches of mercury) may be operative. Experiments at high pressure have shown that few of the common minerals that occur at the surface will survive at depth within the mantle without changing to new high-density phases in which atoms are packed more closely together. Thus, the common form of SiO2, quartz, with a density of 2.65 grams per cubic centimetre, transforms to a new phase, stishovite, with a density of 4.29 grams per cubic centimetre. Such changes are of critical significance in the geophysical interpretation of Earth’s interior.

In general, temperatures increase with depth within the Earth along curves referred to as geotherms. The specific shape of the geotherm beneath any location on Earth is a function of its corresponding local tectonic regime. Metamorphism can occur either when a rock moves from one position to another along a single geotherm or when the geotherm itself changes form. The former can take place when a rock is buried or uplifted at a rate that permits it to maintain thermal equilibrium with its surroundings; this type of metamorphism occurs beneath slowly subsiding sedimentary basins and also in the descending oceanic plate in some subduction zones. The latter process occurs either when hot magma intrudes and alters the thermal state of a stationary rock or when the rock is rapidly transported by tectonic processes (e.g., thrust faulting or large-scale folding) into a new depth-temperature regime in, for example, areas of collision between two continents. Regardless of which process occurs, the result is that a collection of minerals that are thermodynamically stable at the initial conditions are placed under a new set of conditions at which they may or may not be stable. If they are no longer in equilibrium with one another under the new conditions, the minerals will react in such a way as to approach a new equilibrium state. This may involve a complete change in mineral assemblage or simply a shift in the compositions of the preexisting mineral phases. The resultant mineral assemblage will reflect the chemical composition of the original rock and the new pressure-temperature conditions to which the rock was subjected.

Because protolith compositions and the pressure-temperature conditions under which they may be placed vary widely, the diversity of metamorphic rock types is large. Many of these varieties are repeatedly associated with one another in space and time, however, reflecting a uniformity of geologic processes over hundreds of millions of years. For example, the metamorphic rock associations that developed in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America in response to the collision between the North American and African lithospheric plates during the Paleozoic are very similar to those developed in the Alps of south-central Europe during the Mesozoic-Cenozoic collision between the European and African plates. Likewise, the metamorphic rocks exposed in the Alps are grossly similar to metamorphic rocks of the same age in the Himalayas of Asia, which formed during the continental collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates. Metamorphic rocks produced during collisions between oceanic and continental plates from different localities around the world also show striking similarities to each other (see belowRegional metamorphism) yet are markedly different from metamorphic rocks produced during continent-continent collisions. Thus, it is often possible to reconstruct tectonic events of the past on the basis of metamorphic rock associations currently exposed at Earth’s surface.

Metamorphic variables

Metamorphism results from a complex interplay between physical and chemical processes that operate on a scale ranging from micrometres (e.g., fine mineral grain sizes, thickness of intergranular fluid, diffusion distances for chemical species) to tens or hundreds of kilometres (e.g., crustal thickness, width of collision zone between lithospheric plates, depth to subducting plate). Despite this wide range and the many processes involved in the recrystallization of sedimentary and igneous protoliths into metamorphic rocks, there are relatively few variables that effect metamorphic changes. Those of greatest importance are temperature, pressure, and the original chemical composition of the protolith; each is briefly discussed below.


Temperatures at which metamorphism occurs range from the conditions of diagenesis (approximately 150–200 °C) up to the onset of melting. Rocks of different compositions begin to melt at different temperatures, with initial melting occurring at roughly 650–750 °C in rocks of granitic or shaley composition and approximately 900–1,200 °C in rocks of basaltic composition. Above these temperatures, metamorphic processes gradually give way to igneous processes. Hence, the temperature realm of metamorphism spans an interval of about 150–1,100 °C and is strongly dependent on the composition of the protolith.

The temperature at any point within Earth’s crust is controlled by the local heat-flow regime, which is a composite function of heat flow upward from the mantle into the crust, heat generated by radioactive decay in nearby regions of the crust, heat transported into the crust by silicate melts, and tectonic transport of hot or cold rocks at rates faster than those needed to maintain thermal equilibrium with the surrounding rocks. The temperature gradient at any location in the Earth, known as the geothermal gradient, is the increase in temperature per unit distance of depth; it is given by the tangent to the local geotherm. The magnitude of the geothermal gradient thus varies with the shape of the geotherm. In regions with high surface heat flow, such as areas of active volcanism or mantle upwelling beneath thinned continental crust, geothermal gradients of 40 to 100 °C (104 to 212 °F) per kilometre (0.6 mile) prevail, giving rise to high temperatures at relatively shallow levels of the crust. Within the stable interiors of old continents, geothermal gradients of 25 to 35 °C per kilometre are more typical, and in zones of active subduction, where the relatively cold oceanic crust is rapidly transported to great depths, geothermal gradients range from 10 to 20 °C per kilometre. These large variations in geotherms and geothermal gradients give rise to different metamorphic regimes, or combinations of pressure-temperature conditions, associated with the different tectonic provinces.

In addition to the variation of geotherms as a function of position in the Earth, individual geotherms at a single location can vary with time. Geotherms are at steady state (i.e., do not change with time) in tectonically quiescent areas of Earth, such as the middle regions of large continents, and also in areas where tectonic processes like subduction have operated at similar rates over long periods. Transient geotherms, on the other hand, are generated in tectonically active regions, such as zones of continent-continent collision or rapid uplift and erosion, in which the tectonic processes are relatively short-lived; in these areas, the temperature at a given depth in the Earth is time-dependent, and individual geotherms can have very complex shapes that with time approach smooth curves. These complex geotherms can produce wide temperature fluctuations at a given depth within the Earth; rocks metamorphosed in response to these variations may show considerable textural and chemical evidence of disequilibrium, reflecting the fact that temperatures changed at rates that were more rapid than reaction rates among the constituent minerals.

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