An assessment of calcite crystal growth mechanisms based on crystal size distributions

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

, , , and
DOI: 10.1016/S0016-7037(00)00394-X



Calcite crystal growth experiments were undertaken to test a recently proposed model that relates crystal growth mechanisms to the shapes of crystal size distributions (CSDs). According to this approach, CSDs for minerals have three basic shapes: (1) asymptotic, which is related to a crystal growth mechanism having constant-rate nucleation accompanied by surface-controlled growth; (2) lognormal, which results from decaying-rate nucleation accompanied by surface-controlled growth; and (3) a theoretical, universal, steady-state curve attributed to Ostwald ripening. In addition, there is a fourth crystal growth mechanism that does not have a specific CSD shape, but which preserves the relative shapes of previously formed CSDs. This mechanism is attributed to supply-controlled growth.

All three shapes were produced experimentally in the calcite growth experiments by modifying nucleation conditions and solution concentrations. The asymptotic CSD formed when additional reactants were added stepwise to the surface of solutions that were supersaturated with respect to calcite (initial Ω = 20, where Ω = 1 represents saturation), thereby leading to the continuous nucleation and growth of calcite crystals. Lognormal CSDs resulted when reactants were added continuously below the solution surface, via a submerged tube, to similarly supersaturated solutions (initial Ω = 22 to 41), thereby leading to a single nucleation event followed by surface-controlled growth. The Ostwald CSD resulted when concentrated reactants were rapidly mixed, leading initially to high levels of supersaturation (Ω >100), and to the formation and subsequent dissolution of very small nuclei, thereby yielding CSDs having small crystal size variances.

The three CSD shapes likely were produced early in the crystallization process, in the nanometer crystal size range, and preserved during subsequent growth. Preservation of the relative shapes of the CSDs indicates that a supply-controlled growth mechanism was established and maintained during the constant-composition experiments. CSDs having shapes intermediate between lognormal and Ostwald also were generated by varying the initial levels of supersaturation (initial Ω = 28.2 to 69.2) in rapidly mixed solutions.

Lognormal CSDs were observed for natural calcite crystals that are found in septarian concretions occurring in southeastern Colorado. Based on the model described above, these CSDs indicate initial growth by surface control, followed by supply-controlled growth. Thus, CSDs may be used to deduce crystal growth mechanisms from which geologic conditions early in the growth history of a mineral can be inferred. Conversely, CSD shape can be predicted during industrial crystallization by applying the appropriate conditions for a particular growth mechanism.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
An assessment of calcite crystal growth mechanisms based on crystal size distributions
Series title:
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Year Published:
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
First page:
Last page:
Number of Pages: