1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Andesite

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ANDESITE, a name first applied by C. L. von Buch to a series of lavas investigated by him from the Andes, which has passed into general acceptance as the designation of a great family of rocks playing an important part in the geology of most of the volcanic areas of the globe. Not only the Andes but most of the Cordillera of Central and North America consist very largely of andesites; they occur also in great numbers in Japan, the Philippines, Java and New Zealand. They belong to all geological epochs, and are frequent among the Silurian and Devonian rocks of Britain, forming the ranges of the Cheviots, Ochils, Breidden Hills, and part of the Lake district. The well-known volcanoes, Montagne Pelée, the Soufrière of St Vincent, Krakatoa, Tarawera and Bandaisan have within recent years emitted great quantities of andesitic rocks with disastrous violence. No group of lavas is more widespread and more important from a geographical standpoint than the andesites.

They are typical intermediate rocks, containing on an average about 60 % of silica, but showing a considerable range of composition. Most of them correspond to the plutonic diorites, but others more nearly represent the gabbros. Their essential distinguishing features are mineralogical and consist in the presence of much soda-lime felspar (ranging from oligoclase to bytownite and even anorthite), along with one or more of the ferro-magnesian minerals, biotite, hornblende, augite and hypersthene. Both olivine and quartz are typically absent, though in some varieties they occur in small quantity. Orthoclase is more common than these two, but is never very abundant. The andesites have mostly a porphyritic structure, and the larger felspars and ferro-magnesian minerals are often visible to the naked eye, lying in a finer groundmass, usually crystalline, but sometimes to a large extent vitreous. When very fresh they are dark-coloured if they contain much glass, but paler in colour, red, grey or pinkish when more thoroughly crystallized. They weather to various shades of dark brown, reddish-brown, green, grey and yellow. Many of them are highly vesicular or amygdaloidal.

The older (pre-Tertiary) andesites are grouped together by many German, and formerly by British petrologists, under the term porphyrites, but are distinguished only by being, as a rule, in a less fresh condition. Apart from this there are three great subdivisions of this family of rocks, the quartz-andesites or dacites, the hornblende- and biotite-andesites, and the augite and hypersthene-andesites (or pyroxene-andesites). The dacites, a term first applied by Karl Heinrich Hektor Guido Stache (b. 1833) to quartz-bearing andesite of Transylvania or Dacia, contain primary quartz, and are the most siliceous members of the family; their quartz may appear in small blebs (or phenocrysts), or may occur only as minute interstitial grains in the groundmass; other dacites are very vitreous (dacitic-pitchstones). In many of their structural peculiarities they closely simulate the rhyolites, from which they differ in containing less potash and more soda, and in consequence less orthoclase felspar and more plagioclase. The hornblende- and biotite-andesites, like the dacites, have in most cases a pale colour (pink, yellow or grey), being comparatively rich in felspar. They resemble the trachytes both in appearance and in structure, but their felspar is mostly plagioclase, not sanidine. The biotite and hornblende have much the same characters in both of these groups of rocks, and are often surrounded by black borders produced by corrosion and partial resorption by the magma. A pale green augite is common in these andesites, but bronzite or hypersthene is comparatively rare. The pyroxene-andesites are darker, more basic rocks, with a higher specific gravity, and approach closely to the basalts and dolerites, especially when they contain a small amount of olivine. They are probably the commonest types of andesite, both at the present time and in former geological periods. Often their groundmass consists of brownish glass, filled with small microliths of augite and felspar, and having a velvety, glistening lustre when observed in a good light (hyalopilitic structure).

In addition to the accessory minerals, zircon, apatite and iron oxides, which are practically never absent, certain others occur which, on account of their rarity and importance, are of special interest. Sharply-formed little crystals of cordierite are occasionally found in andesites (Japan, Spain, St Vincent, Cumberland); they seem to depend on more or less complete digestion of fragments of gneiss and other rocks in the molten lava. Garnet and sapphire have also been found in andesites, and perhaps have the same signification; a rose-red variety of epidote (withamite) is known as a secondary product in certain andesites (Glencoe, Scotland), and the famous red porphyry (porfido rosso) of the ancients is a rock of this type. Ore deposits very frequently occur in connexion with andesitic rocks (Nevada, California, Hungary, Borneo, &c.), especially those of gold and silver. They have been laid down in fissures as veins of quartz, and the surrounding igneous rocks are frequently altered and decomposed in a peculiar way by the hot ascending metalliferous solutions. Andesites affected in this manner are known as propylites. The alteration is one of those post-volcanic, pneumatolytic processes, so frequent in volcanic districts. Propylitization consists in the replacement of the original minerals of the andesite by secondary products such as kaolin, epidote, mica, chlorite, quartz and chalcedony, often with the retention of the igneous structures of the rocks.

In microscopic characters the andesites present considerable variety; their porphyritic felspars are usually of tabular shape with good crystalline outlines, but often filled with glass enclosures. Zonal structure is exceedingly common, and the central parts of the crystals are more basic (bytownite, &c.) than the edges (oligoclase). Sanidine occurs with considerable frequency, but not in notable amount. The biotite and hornblende are yellow or brown and richly pleochroic. The hypersthene is nearly always idiomorphic, with a distinct pleochroism ranging from salmon-pink to green. Augite may be green in the more acid andesites, but is pale brown in the pyroxene-andesites. The apatite is often filled with minute dust-like enclosures. In the dacites felsitic groundmasses are by no means rare, but micro-crystalline types consisting of plagioclase and sanidine with quartz are more prevalent. The hornblende- and mica-andesites have groundmasses composed mainly of acid plagioclase with little orthoclase or glassy base (pilotaxitic groundmass). Clear brown glass with many small crystals of plagioclase and pale brown augite (hyalopilitic groundmass) is very frequent in pyroxene-andesites. Vitreous rocks belonging to all of the above groups are well known though not very common, and exhibit the perlitic, pumiceous, spherulitic and other structures, characteristic to volcanic obsidians and pitchstones. (J. S. F.)