Laboratory Duplication of Comb Layering in the Rhum Pluton

Colin H. Donaldson1
Department of Geology, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
Lunar Science Institute, 3303 NASA Road 1, Houston, Texas 77058, USA
1Present address: Department of Geology, University of Manchester, Manchester MI3 9PL, England.

Summary: The changes in olivine morphology and grain size upwards through comb-layered olivine eucrite and peridotite varieties of harrisite in the Rhum layered pluton are systematic, from abundant small granular crystals, to fewer and larger hopper crystals, to highly elongate branching crystals, which are preferentially elongate along the a axis and perpendicular to the plane of the layering. These changes have been reproduced in the laboratory by cooling water-bearing melts (P = 5 kb) of harrisite at 14 and 30 °/hr. These cooling rates represent maximum values for natural crystallization of comb-layered harrisite. Other experiments suggest that the oriented branching olivines in the rock crystallized at 30–50 °C supercooling. The results indicate that continuous, rather than abrupt, changes in the degree of supercooling and supersaturation of the magma can cause formation of comb layers. They also indicate that while field relations point to growth of most comb layers along a thermal gradient in the magma, this is not an essential condition for comb layer formation. Growth could be along a compositional gradient instead. During crystallization of a comb layer, both nucleation rate and the number of crystals suspended in magma close to the layer are essentially zero. Conditions initiating and terminating comb layer formation and the origin of the rapid vectorial crystallization are discussed. It is suggested that some comb layers could form without change in degree of supercooling, due to rapid removal of crystals suspended in the magma causing the enhanced growth rate and branching style of growth of the remaining crystals. Multiple origins of comb-layered rocks may therefore be possible.

Mineralogical Magazine; September 1977 v. 41; no. 319; p. 323-336; DOI: 10.1180/minmag.1977.041.319.03
© 1977, The Mineralogical Society
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