Summary: Iron-rich olivines have been oxidized in air in the laboratory and the mechanism of their breakdown has been elucidated using X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy. Low-temperature oxidation (500–800 °C) produces well-oriented hematite- and magnetite-like precipitates together with amorphous silica. The reaction is a cellular one in which thin needles of oxide about 50–100 Å apart grow into the matrix separated by regions of amorphous silica. Nucleation of spherical colonies of the iron oxide and silica occurs on dislocations.
Although the hematite or magnetite always shows the same topotactic relationship with the matrix, the direction in which the needle-like precipitates grow is determined by the orientation of the nucleating dislocation. The small size and highly distorted nature of these precipitates accounts for the diffuseness of their X-ray reflections.
Oxidation at 1000 °C produces undistorted equiaxed grains of the oxides about 0·2 μm in size. They are surrounded by silica, which produces a disordered electron diffraction pattern. As the temperature is raised, the silica achieves more structural order and the oxide grains increase in size.