Palagonitization is a common, but imperfectly defined process that greatly modifies the physical and chemical properties of glassy basaltic tephra deposited in subaquatic/subglacial environments on Earth and perhaps Mars. It also results in textures and mineralogies that are distinct from other forms of (mainly pedogenic) low temperature alteration. Specifically, the process of palagonitization (1) initially results in the formation of 'palaginitized glass', a quasi- or nano-crystalline, rind-like material that contains smectite, as well as lesser amounts of other clays (e.g. serpentine), and (2) eventually results in consolidation of tephra, mediated through the accretion of palagonitized glass and later- formed authigenic cements. Conversely, pedogenic weathering of glassy basaltic tephra is characterized by disaggregation of tephra, and formation of a wide range of pedogenic products, including layer silicates (although not primarily smectite), short-range-order aluminosilicates and oxyhydroxides, whose composition reflects the intensity of the weathering environment. These mineralogical and textural properties can be readily recognized through a variety of techniques including electron microscopy/microprobe analysis, reflectance spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction and soil chemistry. Analyses of samples collected from the summit regions of Kilauea and Mauna Kea volcanoes on the island of Hawaii are presented here in order to illustrate differences between palagonitization and pedogenic weathering of glassy basaltic tephra. In the young Hawaiian tephras studied, palagonitization has occured in response to hydrothermal activity shortly after deposition. Although some, non-hydrothermally affected tephras may eventually become palagonitized, those that have been strongly desilicated by intense pedogenic weathering will probably never become palagonitized.
Additional publication details
Distinguishing palagonitized from pedogenically-altered basaltic Hawaiian tephra: Mineralogical and geochemical criteria