Natural glass can be formed by volcanic processes, lightning (fulgarites) burning coal, and by meteorite impact. By far the most common process is volcanic - basically the glass is rapidly chilled molten rock. All natural glasses are thermodynamically unstable and tend to alter chemically or to crystallize. The rate of these processes is determined by the chemical composition of the magma. The hot and fluid basaltic melts have a structure that allows for rapid crystal growth, and seldom forms glass selvages greater than a few centimeters thick, even when the melt is rapidly cooled by extrusion in the deep sea. In contrast the cooler and very viscous rhyolitic magmas can yield bodies of glass that are tens of meters thick. These highly polymerized magmas have a high silica content - often 71-77% SiO2. Their high viscosity inhibits diffusive crystal growth. Basalt glass in sea water forms an alteration zone called palagonite whose thickness increases linearly with time. The rate of diffusion of water into rhyolitic glass, which follows the relationship - thickness = k (time) 1 2, has been determined as a function of the glass composition and temperature. Increased SiO2 increases the rate, whereas increased CaO, MgO and H2O decrease the rate. The activation energy of water diffusion varies from about 19 to 22 kcal/mol. for the glasses studied. The diffusion of alkali out of rhyolite glass occurs simultaneously with water diffusion into the glass. The rate of devitrification of rhyolitic glass is a function of the glass viscosity, which in turn is a function of water content and temperature. Although all of the aforementioned processes tend to destroy natural glasses, the slow rates of these processes, particularly for rhyolitic glass, has allowed samples of glass to persist for 60 million years. ?? 1984.
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Volcanic glasses, their origins and alteration processes