Bowen’s reaction series
Bowen’s reaction series
Bowen’s reaction series describes the temperature dependent formation of common minerals as magma cools to form igneous rocks. The temperature of the magma and the rate of cooling determine which minerals can form and the size of the mineral crystals formed. The slower a magma cools, the larger crystals can grow.
Named after geologist Norman L. Bowen (1887–1956), Bowen’s reaction series allows geologists to predict chemical composition and texture based upon the temperature of a cooling magma. Alternatively, knowing the mineral comosition of an igneous rock a geologist can infer the conditions under which it crystallized.
Bowen’s reaction series is usually diagramed as a “Y” with horizontal lines representing temperature drawn across the “Y.” The first horizontal line—usually placed just above the top of the “Y”—represents a temperature of 3,272°F (1, 800°C). The next horizontal line, represents a temperature of 2,012°F (1, 100°C) and is located one-third of the way between the top of the “Y” and the point where the two arms join the base. A third line representing a temperature of 1,652°F (900°C) is located two-thirds of the way from the top of the “Y” to juncture of the upper arms. A fourth horizontal line—representing a temperature of 1, 112°F (600°C) intersects the triple point junction where the upper arms of the “Y” meet the base portion. As the magma cools, there is a trend toward molecular complexity and increased viscosity.
The horizontal temperature lines divide the “Y” into four compositional sections. Mineral formation is not possible above 3,272°F(1, 800°C). Between 2,012°F (1,100°C) and 3,272°F (1, 800°C), rocks are ultramafic in composition. Between 1,652°F (900°C) and 2,012°F (1,100°C), rocks are mafic in composition. Between 1,112°F (600°C) and 1,652°F (900°C), rocks are intermediate in composition. Below 1,112°F (600°C), felsic rocks form.
The upper arms of the “Y” represent two different formation pathways. By convention, the left upper arm represents the discontinuous arm or pathway. The upper right arm represents the continuous arm or continuous path of formation. The discontinuous arm represents mineral formations rich in iron and magnesium. The first mineral to form is olivine—it is the only mineral stable at or just below 3,272°F (1,800°C). As the temperature decreases, pyroxene becomes stable. The general chemical compositional formula—used throughout this article and not to be confused with a balanced molecular or empirical chemical formula—at the highest temperatures includes iron, magnesium, silicon and oxygen (FeMgSiO, but no quartz) At approximately 2,012°F (1,100°C), calcium containing minerals (CaFeMgSiO) become stable. As the temperature lowers to 1,652°F (900°C), amphibole (CaFeMgSiOOH) forms. As the magmas cools to 1,112°F (600°C), biotite (KFeMgSiOOH) formation is stable.
The continuous arm of Bowen’s reaction series represents the formation of feldspar (plagioclase) in a continuous and gradual series that starts with calcium rich feldspar (Ca-feldspar, CaAlSiO) and continues with a gradual increase in the formation of sodium containing feldspar (Ca-Na-feldspar, CaNaAlSiO) until an equilibrium is established at approximately 1,652°F (900°C). As the magmas cool and the calcium ions are depleted, the feldspar formation becomes predominantly sodium feldspar (Na-feldspar, NaAlSiO). At 1,112°F (600°C), the feldspar formation is nearly 100% sodium feldspar (Na-feldspar, NaAlSiO).
At or just below 1,112°F (600°C), the upper arms of the “Y” join the base. At this point in the magma cooling, K-feldspar (KAlSiO) forms and as the temperature decreases further, muscovite (KAlSiOOH) becomes stable. Just above the base of the “Y,” the temperature is just above the point where the magma completely solidifies. At these coolest depicted temperatures (just above 392°F [200°C]), quartz (SiO) forms.
The time over which the magma is allowed to cool determines whether the rock will be pegmatite (produced by extremely slow cooling producing very large crystals), phaneritic (produced by slow cooling that produces visible crystals), aphanitic (intermediate cooling times that produce microscopic crystals), or glassy in texture (a product of rapid cooling without crystal formation). When magmas experience differential cooling conditions, they produce porphyritic rock containing a mixture of crystal sizes suspended in a phaneritic or aphanitic groundmass. Pegmatites and phaneritic igneous rocks cool slowly far below Earth’s surface and are known as plutonic rocks, whereas aphanitic rocks and glasses cool rapidly at the surface as volcanic rocks.
Although the above temperature and percentage composition data are approximate, simplified (e.g., the formation of hornblende has been omitted), and idealized, Bowen’s reaction series allows the prediction of mineral content in rock and—by examination of rock—allows the reverse determination of the conditions under which the magma cooled and igneous rock formed.
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James Madison University, Department of Geology and Environmental Science. “Bowen’s Reaction Series and The Igneous Rock Forming Minerals.” August 17, 2000 <http://csmres.jmu.edu/geollab/Fichter/RockMin/RockMin.html> (accessed January 22, 2006).
K. Lee Lerner
"Bowen’s reaction series." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bowens-reaction-series-1
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