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Metasomatism and magmatic assimilation at a gabbro-limestone contact, Christmas Mountains, Big Bend region, Texas


Joesten, Raymond Leonard (1974) Metasomatism and magmatic assimilation at a gabbro-limestone contact, Christmas Mountains, Big Bend region, Texas. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology.


A composite stock of alkaline gabbro and syenite is intrusive into limestone of the Del Carmen, Sue Peake and Santa Elena Formations at the northwest end of the Christmas Mountains. There is abundant evidence of solution of wallrock by magma but nowhere are gabbro and limestone in direct contact. The sequence of lithologies developed across the intrusive contact and across xenoliths is gabbro, pyroxenite, calc-silicate skarn, marble. Pyroxenite is made up of euhedral crystals of titanaugite and sphene in a leucocratic matrix of nepheline, Wollastonite and alkali feldspar. The uneven modal distribution of phases in pyroxenite and the occurrence' of nepheline syenite dikes, intrusive into pyroxenite and skarn, suggest that pyroxenite represents an accumulation of clinopyroxene "cemented" together by late-solidifying residual magma of nepheline syenite composition. Assimilation of limestone by gabbroic magma involves reactions between calcite and magma and/or crystals in equilibrium with magma and crystallization of phases in which the magma is saturated, to supply energy for the solution reaction. Gabbroic magma was saturated with plagioclase and clinopyroxene at the time of emplacement. The textural and mineralogic features of pyroxenite can be produced by the reaction 2( 1-X) CALCITE + ANXABl-X = (1-X) NEPHELINE+ 2(1-X) WOLLASTONITE+ X ANORTHITE+ 2(1-X) CO2. Plagioclase in pyroxenite has corroded margins and is rimmed by nepheline, suggestive of resorption by magma. Anorthite and wollastonite enter solid solution in titanaugite. For each mole of calcite dissolved, approximately one mole of clinopyroxene was crystallized. Thus the amount of limestone that may be assimilated is limited by the concentration of potential clinopyroxene in the magma. Wollastonite appears as a phase when magma has been depleted in iron and magnesium by crystallization of titanaugite. The predominance of mafic and ultramafic compositions among contaminated rocks and their restriction to a narrow zone along the intrusive contact provides little evidence for the generation of a significant volume of desilicated magma as a result of limestone assimilation.

Within 60 m of the intrusive contact with the gabbro, nodular chert in the Santa Elena Limestone reacted with the enveloping marble to form spherical nodules of high-temperature calc-silicate minerals. The phases wollastonite, rankinite, spurrite, tilleyite and calcite, form a series of sharply-bounded, concentric monomineralic and two-phase shells which record a step-wise decrease in silica content from the core of a nodule to its rim. Mineral zones in the nodules vary 'with distance from the gabbro as follows:


The mineral of a one-phase zone is compatible with the phases bounding it on either side but these phases are incompatible in the same volume of P-T-XCO2.

Growth of a monomineralio zone is initiated by reaction between minerals of adjacent one-phase zones which become unstable with rising temperature to form a thin layer of a new single phase that separates the reactants and is compatible with both of them. Because the mineral of the new zone is in equilibrium with the phases at both of its contacts, gradients in the chemical potentials of the exchangeable components are established across it. Although zone boundaries mark discontinuities in the gradients of bulk composition, two-phase equilibria at the contacts demonstrate that the chemical potentials are continuous. Hence, Ca, Si and CO2 were redistributed in the growing nodule by diffusion. A monomineralic zone grows at the expense of an adjacent zone by reaction between diffusing components and the mineral of the adjacent zone. Equilibria between two phases at zone boundaries buffers the chemical potentials of the diffusing species. Thus, within a monomineralic zone, the chemical potentials of the diffusing components are controlled external to the local assemblage by the two-phase equilibria at the zone boundaries.

Mineralogically zoned calc-silicate skarn occurs as a narrow band that separates pyroxenite and marble along the intrusive contact and forms a rim on marble xenoliths in gabbro. Skarn consists of melilite or idocrase pseudomorphs of melili te, one or two . stoichiometric calcsilicate phases and accessory Ti-Zr garnet, perovskite and magnetite. The sequence of mineral zones from pyroxenite to marble, defined by a characteristic calc-silicate, is wollastonite, rankinite, spurrite, calcite. Mineral assemblages of adjacent skarn zones are compatible and the set of zones in a skarn band defines a facies type, indicating that the different mineral assemblages represent different bulk compositions recrystallized under identical conditions. The number of phases in each zone is less than the number that might be expected to result from metamorphism of a general bulk composition under conditions of equilibrium, trivariant in P, T and uCO2. The "special" bulk composition of each zone is controlled by reaction between phases of the zones bounding it on either side. The continuity of the gradients of composition of melilite and garnet solid solutions across the skarn is consistent with the local equilibrium hypothesis and verifies that diffusion was the mechanism of mass transport. The formula proportions of Ti and Zr in garnet from skarn vary antithetically with that of Si Which systematically decreases from pyroxenite to marble. The chemical potential of Si in each skarn zone was controlled by the coexisting stoichiometric calc-silicate phases in the assemblage. Thus the formula proportion of Si in garnet is a direct measure of the chemical potential of Si from point to point in skarn. Reaction between gabbroic magma saturated with plagioclase and clinopyroxene produced nepheline pyroxenite and melilite-wollastonite skarn. The calcsilicate zones result from reaction between calcite and wollastonite to form spurrite and rankinite.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:High Temperature metamorphism, calc-silicate, assimilation, skarn
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Albee, Arden Leroy
Thesis Committee:
  • Albee, Arden Leroy (chair)
  • Silver, Leon T.
  • Taylor, Hugh P.
  • Rossman, George Robert
  • Ahrens, Thomas J.
Defense Date:30 May 1973
Non-Caltech Author Email:joesten (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:02272014-085454874
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:8100
Deposited By: Dan Anguka
Deposited On:27 Feb 2014 18:16
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:03

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