views updated May 11 2018


The olivines are a class of common silicate minerals named for their greenish or olive color. They are glassy, fracture conchoidally (i.e., along curving cleavage surfaces), and are often found in meteorites and in mafic igneous rocks such as basalt , dunite, gabbro, and peridotite .

Like the feldspars, the olivines consist of a silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) framework interspersed with atoms of a metallic additive, usually magnesium (Mg) or iron (Fe) but sometimes calcium (Ca). Forsterite (Mg2SiO4) is olivine containing no additive but magnesium, while fayalite (Fe2SiO4) is olivine containing no additive but iron. Between these two minerals there is a continuum of olivines containing varying percentages of forsterite and fayalite in solid solution. Olivine with 1030% fayalite is defined as chrysolite; 3050%, hyalosiderite; 5070%, hortonolite; and 7090%, ferrohortonite. The remainder in all cases is forsterite. An olivine with less than 10% fayalite is classified simply as forsterite, while one with less than 10% forsterite is classified simply as fayalite. Confusingly, the term chrysolite is also sometimes used as a synonym for olivine in general.

Magnesium-rich olivine is the majority ingredient of the rock peridotite, the main component of Earth's upper mantle. The interface between the underside of the crust and the olivine-rich peridotite of the mantle, is called the Mohorovicic discontinuity or Moho for short, and is of great importance in seismology . The Moho is generally located at a depth of 3.7 mi (6 km) beneath the oceans and 19 mi (30 km) beneath the continents.

Compression of olivine's atomic structure to its spinel phases under extreme pressure causes a second seismic discontinuity at approximately 250 mi (400 km) and a third at approximately 420 mi (670 km). These olivinespinel phase transitions affect the mechanical properties of the whole mantle, which in turn determine the convective flow processes that drive plate tectonics and thus much of the geological history Earth.

Implosive collapse of olivine to spinel in slabs of oceanic crust being subducted rapidly into the mantle may be violent enough to generate deep-focus earthquakes.

Olivine is readily altered to the mineral serpentine by the hydration of its crystal structure by hot (400800°C) water . This process occurs along mid-ocean ridges and other places where mafic rock is exposed to superheated water.

Peridot (pronounced PER-ih-do) is a transparent variety of olivine valued as a gemstone. Olivine is used industrially as a lining in furnaces due to its heat resistance.

See also Bowen's reaction series; Earth, interior structure; Mantle plumes


views updated May 08 2018

olivine A major rock-forming mineral group belonging to the nesosilicates, forming a complete solid solution series between forsterite (Mg2SiO4) and fayalite (Fe2SiO4); sp. gr. 3.22–4.39 increasing with increasing iron content; hardness 6–7; orthorhombic; usually olive-green, but white or yellowish in forsterite, brown or black in fayalite; colourless streak; vitreous lustre; crystals rare, short, prismatic, usually develops as granular aggregates; cleavage poor igneous; occurs in silica-poor, igneous rocks (e.g. basalt, gabbro, troctolite, and peridotite), extensively with pyroxene in dunites, and in stony meteorites and lunar basalts; alters readily to serpentine during weathering or hydrothermal alteration.


views updated May 29 2018

olivine Ferromagnesian mineral, (MgFe)2 SiO4, found in basic and ultrabasic igneous rocks. Olivine has orthorhombic system crystals and is usually olive-green. It is glassy and brittle with no cleavage. Hardness 6.5–7; r.d. 3.3.