1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Schists

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SCHISTS (Gr. σχίζειν, to split), in petrology, refers to metamorphic rocks that have a fissile character. In all of them there is at least one mineral that crystallizes in platy forms (e.g. mica, talc, chlorite, haematite), or in long blades or fibres (anthophyllite, tremolite, actinolite, tourmaline), and, when these have a well marked parallel arrangement in definite bands or folia, the rock will break far more easily along the bands than across them. The platy minerals have also a perfect cleavage parallel to their flat surfaces, while the fibrous species often have two or more cleavages following their long axes; hence a schistose rock may split not only by separation of the mineral plates from one another but also by cleavage of the parallel minerals through their substance.

Schists in the common acceptance of that term are really highly crystalline rocks; fissile slates, shales or sandstones, in which the original sedimentary structures are little modified by recrystallization, are not included in this group by English petrologists, though the French schistes and the German Schiefer are used to designate also rocks of these types. The difference between schists and gneisses is mainly that the latter have less highly developed foliation; they also, as a rule, are more coarse grained, and contain far more quartz and felspar, two minerals that rarely assume platy or acicular forms, and hence do not lead to the production of a fissile character in the rocks in which they are important constituents. Schists, as a rule, are found in regions composed mainly of metamorphic rocks, such as the Central Alps, Himalayas, and other mountain ranges, Saxony, Scandinavia, the Highlands of Scotland and north-west of Ireland. They are typical products of “regional” metamorphism, and are in nearly all cases older than the fossiliferous sedimentary rocks. Transitions between schists and normal igneous or sedimentary rocks are often found. The Silurian mica-schists of Bergen in Norway are fossiliferous; in the Alps it is believed that even Mesozoic rocks pass laterally into mica-schists and calc-schists. These changes are regarded as having been produced by the operation of heat, pressure and folding. It is often taught that gneisses are the further stages of the crystallization of schists and belong to a deeper zone where the pressures and the temperatures were greater. Igneous rocks also may be converted readily into schists (e.g. serpentine into talc-schist, dolerite into hornblende-schist) by the same agencies.

There are two great groups of schists, viz. those derived from sedimentary and those derived from igneous rocks, or, as they have been called, the “paraschists” and the “orthoschists.” The first group is the more important and includes some of the commonest metamorphic rocks. In the paraschists, though fossils are exceedingly rare, sedimentary structures such as bedding and the alternation of laminae of fine and coarse deposit may frequently be preserved. The foliation is often parallel to the bedding, but may cross it obliquely or at right angles; or the bedding may be folded and contorted while the foliation maintains a nearly uniform orientation. When the foliation is undulose or sinuous the rocks are said to be crumpled, and have wavy splitting surfaces instead of nearly plane ones. The development of foliation in shaly rocks is undoubtedly closely akin to the production of cleavage in slates.

The sedimentary schists or paraschists have three great subdivisions, the mica-schists and chlorite-schists (which correspond in a general way to shales or clay rocks) the calc-schists (impure limestones) and the quartz-schists (metamorphosed sandstones). In the mica-schists of this group biotite or muscovite may be the principal mineral and often both are present in varying proportions; the mica has developed from the argillaceous matter of the original rock; in addition there is always quartz and sometimes telspar (albite or oligoclase). A large number of minerals may occur as accessories, e.g. garnet, tourmaline, staurolite, andalusite, actinolite, chloritoid or ottrelite, epidote, haematite, and if any of these is abundant its presence may be indicated by the name given the rock, e.g. staurolite-mica-schist. The phyllites (q.v.) form a middle term between this group and the slates; they consist usually of quartz, white mica and chlorite, and have much of the foliation and schistosity of the mica-schists. Rocks that contain andalusite and staurolite are sometimes found in such associations as show that they are due to contact action by intrusive igneous masses. The chlorite-schists are often of igneous derivation, such as ash-beds or fine lavas that have been metamorphosed. Many of them contain large octahedra of magnetite. Others are probably sedimentary rocks, especially those that contain much muscovite. Calc-schists are usually argillaceous limestones in which a large development of biotite or phlogopite has occasioned foliation. Often they contain quartz and felspar, sometimes pyroxene, amphibole, garnet or epidote. Pure limestones do not frequently take on schistose fades. The quartz-schists consist of quartz and white mica, and are intimately related to quartzites. Many of them have been originally micaceous or felspathic sandstones. We may mention also graphitic-schists containing dark scaly graphite (often altered forms of carbonaceous shales), and haematite-schists, which may represent beds of ironstone.

The orthoschists are white mica-schists produced by the shearing of acid rocks, such as felsite and porphyry. Some of the “porphyroids” which have grains of quartz and felspar in a finely schistose micaceous matrix are intermediate between porphyries and mica-schists of this group. Still more numerous are orthoschists of hornblendic character (hornblende-schists) consisting of green hornblende with often felspar, quartz and sphene (also rutile, garnet, epidote or zoisite, biotite and iron oxides). These are modified forms of basic rocks such as basalt, dolerite and diabase. Every transition can be found between perfectly normal ophitic dolerites and typical hornblende-schists, and occasionally the same dike or sill will provide specimens of all the connecting stages. A few hornblende-schists are metamorphosed gabbros; others have developed from dikes or sills of lamprophyre. Under extreme crushing these basic rocks may be converted into dark biotite-schists, or greenish chlorite-schists. Tremolite-schist and anthophyllite-schist are in nearly all cases the representatives of the ultra-basic igneous rocks such as peridotite in regions of high metamorphism. Talc-schists are of the same category. They are soft and lustrous, with a peculiarly smooth feel, and though often confounded with mica-schists may be distinguished by their richness in magnesia; many of them contain tremolite or actinolite; others have residual grains of olivine or augite; and here also every gradation can be found between the unmodified igneous types and the perfectly metamorphic schists. Occasionally serpentines become sheared without yielding talcose minerals; they are then known as serpentine-schist and antigorite-schist, the latter being tough leek-green rocks, more or less transparent.