Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
Research article
09 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 09 Jul 2014

An experimental study of pyroxene crystallization during rapid cooling in a thermal gradient: application to komatiites

S. Bouquain, N. T. Arndt, F. Faure, and G. Libourel

Abstract. To investigate the crystallization of pyroxene in spinifex-textured komatiites, we undertook a series of experiments in which compositions in the CaO-MgO-Al2O3-SiO2 CMAS system were cooled rapidly in a thermal gradient. Cooling rates were generally between 5 and 10 °C h−1, but some runs were made at 100–200 °C h−1; thermal gradients were between 10 and 20 °C cm−1. These conditions reproduced those at various depths in the crust of komatiite lava flow. The starting composition was chosen to have pigeonite on the liquidus, and most of the experimental charges crystallized zoned pigeonite–diopside crystals like those in komatiite lavas. An intriguing aspect of the experimental results was their lack of reproducibility. Some experiments crystallized forsterite, whereas others that were run under similar conditions crystallized two pyroxenes and no forsterite; some experiments were totally glassy, but others crystallized entirely to pyroxene. The degree of supercooling at the onset of pyroxene crystallization was variable, from less than 25 °C to more than 110 °C. We attribute these results to the difficulty of nucleation of pyroxene under the conditions of the experiments. In some cases forsterite crystallized metastably and modified the liquid composition to inhibit pyroxene crystallization; in others no nucleation took place until a large degree of supercooling was achieved, and then pyroxene crystallized rapidly. Pigeonite crystallized under a wide range of conditions, at cooling rates from 3 to 100 °C h−1. The notion that this mineral only forms at low cooling rates is not correct.