1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Glauconite

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GLAUCONITE, a mineral, green in colour, and chemically a hydrous silicate of iron and potassium. It especially occurs in the green sands and muds which are gathering at the present time on the sea bottom at many different places. The wide extension of these sands and muds was first made known by the naturalists of the “Challenger,” and it is now found that they occur in the Mediterranean as well as in the open ocean, but they have not been found in the Black Sea or in any fresh-water lakes. These deposits are not in a true sense abyssal, but are of terrigenous origin, the mud and sand being derived from the wear of the continents, transported by marine currents. The greater part of the mass consists in all cases of minerals such as quartz, felspar (often labradorite), mica, chlorite, with more or less calcite which is probably always derived from shells or other organic sources. Many accessory minerals such as tourmaline and zircon have been identified also, while augite, hornblende and other volcanic minerals occur in varying proportion as in all the sediments of the open sea. The depth in which they accumulate varies a good deal, viz. from 200 up to 2000 fathoms, but as a rule is less than 1000 fathoms, and it is believed that the most common situations are where the continental shores slope rather steeply into moderate depths of water. Many of the blue muds, which owe their colour to fine particles of sulphide of iron, contain also a small quantity of glauconite; in Globigerina oozes this substance has also been found, and in fact there exists every gradation between the glauconitic deposits and the other types of sands and muds which are found at similar depths.

The colouring matter is believed in every case to be glauconite. Other ingredients, such as lime, alumina and magnesia are usually shown to be present by the analyses, but may perhaps be regarded as non-essential: it is impossible to isolate this substance in a pure state as it occurs only in fine aggregates, mixed with other minerals. The glauconite, though crystalline, never occurs well crystallized but only as dense clusters of very minute particles which react feebly on polarized light. They have one well-marked characteristic inasmuch as they often form rounded lumps. In many cases it is certain that these are casts, which fill up the interior of empty shells of Foraminifera. They may be seen occupying these shells, and when the shell is dissolved away perfect casts of glauconite are set free. Apparently in some manner not understood, the decaying organic matter in the shell of the dead organism initiated or favoured the chemical reactions by which the glauconite was formed. That the mineral originated on the sea bottom among the sand and mud is quite certainly established by these facts; moreover, since it is so soft and friable that it is easily powdered up by pressure with the fingers, it cannot have been transported from any great distance by currents. Small rounded glauconite lumps, which are common on the sands but show no trace of having filled the chambers of Foraminifera, may have arisen by a re-deposit of broken-down casts such as have been described; probably slight movement of the deposits, occasioned by currents, may have broken up the glauconite casts and scattered the soft material through the water. Films or stains of glauconite on shells, sand grains and phosphate nodules are explained by a similar deposit of fragmental glauconite.

In a small number of Tertiary and older rocks glauconite occurs as an essential component. It is found in the Pliocene sands of Holland, the Eocene sands of Paris and the “Molasse” of Switzerland, but is much more abundant in the Lower Cretaceous rocks of N. Europe, especially in the subdivision known as the Greensand. Rounded lumps and casts like those of the green sands of the present day are plentiful in these rocks, and it is obvious that the mode of formation was in all respects the same. The green sand when weathered is brown or rusty coloured, the glauconite being oxidized to limonite. Calcareous sands or impure limestones with glauconite are also by no means rare, an example being the well-known Kentish Rag. In the Chalk-rock and Chalk-marl of some parts of England glauconite is rather frequent, and glauconitic chalk is known also in the north of France. Among the oldest rocks which contain this mineral are the Lower Silurian of the St Petersburg district, but it is very rare in the Palaeozoic formations, possibly because it undergoes crystalline change and is also liable to be oxidized and converted into other ferruginous minerals. It has been suggested that certain deposits of iron ores may owe their origin to deposits of glauconite, as for example those of the Mesabi range, Minnesota, U.S.A. (J. S. F.)