At low temperatures, in the presence of an aqueous solution, olivine and orthopyroxene are not stable relative to the hydrous phases brucite, serpentine and talc. Alteration of dunite and peridotite to serpentine or steatite bodies must therefore proceed via non-equilibrium processes. The compositions of natural solutions emanating from dunites and peridotites demonstrate that the dissolution of forsterite and/or enstatite is rapid compared with the precipitation of the hydrous phases; consequently, dissolution of anhydrous minerals controls the chemistry of such solutions. In the presence of an aqueous phase, precipitation of hydrous minerals is the rate-controlling step. Brucite-bearing and -deficient serpentinites alter at low temperature by non-equilibrium processes, as evidenced by the composition of natural solutions from these bodies. The solutions approach equilibrium with the least stable hydrous phase and, as a consequence, are supersaturated with other hydrous phases. Dissolution of the least stable phase is rapid compared to precipitation of other phases, so that the dissolving mineral controls the solution chemistry. Non-equilibrium alteration of anhydrous ultramafic bodies continues until at least one anhydrous phase equilibrates with brucite, chrysotile or talc. The lowest temperature (at a given pressure) at which this happens is defined by the reaction: 3H2O + 2Mg2SiO4 ??? Mg3Si2O5(OH)4 + Mg(OH)2 (Johannes, 1968, Contrib. Mineral. Petrol. 19, 309-315) so that non-equilibrium alteration may occur well into greenschist facies metamorphic conditions. ?? 1978.
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Low temperature alteration processes affecting ultramafic bodies