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Serpentine Geoecology of Western North AmericaGeology, Soils, and Vegetation$
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Earl B. Alexander, Roger G. Coleman, Todd Keeler-Wolfe, and Susan P. Harrison

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195165081

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195165081.001.0001

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Mineralogy and Petrology of Serpentine

Mineralogy and Petrology of Serpentine

3 Mineralogy and Petrology of Serpentine
Serpentine Geoecology of Western North America

Earl B. Alexander

Roger G. Coleman

Todd Keeler-Wolfe

Susan P. Harrison

Oxford University Press

“Serpentine” is used both as the name of a rock and the name of a mineral. Mineralogists use “serpentine” as a group name for serpentine minerals. Petrologists refer to rocks composed mostly of serpentine minerals and minor amounts of talc, chlorite, magnetite, and brucite as serpentinites. The addition of “-ite” to mineral names is common practice in petrologic nomenclature. For instance, quartzite is a name for a rock made up mostly of quartz. Serpentinites are rocks that form as a result of metamorphism or metasomatism of primary magnesium–iron silicate minerals. This entails the replacement of the primary silicate minerals by magnesium silicate serpentine minerals and the concentration of excess iron in magnetite. “Mafic” is a euphonious term derived from magnesium and ferric that is used for dark colored rocks rich in ferromagnesian silicate minerals. “Ultramafic” is used when the magnesium–ferrous silicate minerals compose >90% of the total rock. Olivine, clinopyroxene, and orthopyroxene are the minerals in primary ultramafic rocks, with minor amounts of plagioclase, amphibole, and chromite. Ultrabasic has been used by some geologists in referring to ultramafic rocks. The most common ultramafic rocks are harzburgite, containing <75% olivine and 25% orthopyroxene; dunite, with 100% olivine; and lherzolite, which has 75% olivine, 15% orthopyroxene, and >10% clinopyroxene, with or without plagioclase. Very small amounts of chromite are present in all of the mantle ultramafic rocks (Coleman 1971). The alteration of primary ultramafic rocks to serpentine mineral assemblages is incremental due to episodic invasion of water into the ultramafic rock. It is difficult to distinguish and map the gradations from primary ultramafic rock to serpentinite. Because of this difficulty in distinction, we prefer to use the term ultramafic or serpentinized peridotite for all gradations to serpentinite. Pedologists and botanists commonly group serpentinites with primary ultramafic rocks and refer to these substrates as serpentine because all of them have similar chemical compositions. As will become apparent later, there is great variability in the mineralogical compositions of these rocks and the soils derived from them.

Keywords:   anorthosite, basalt, calcite, dehydration, harzburgite, komatiite, lava, magnetite, nickel, ophiolite

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