Abstract: Transmission electron microscopy has been used to investigate the mechanism of natural biotite breakdown under pyrometamorphic disequilibrium conditions. Biotite in a xenolith of pelitic gneiss collected from a Tertiary dolerite sill, Isle of Mull, Scotland, shows evidence of an incipient reaction, characterised by a darkening in colour and the appearance of areas of fine-grained reaction products. TEM and analytical electron microscope data show that the reaction can be described as: Fe-Al biotite → Mg-Al biotite + magnetite + hercynitic spinel + K-feldspar/melt + vapour.
The orientations of the product phase are controlled by the crystallography of the reacting biotite, demonstrating that the transformation proceeds by a topotactic mechanism. An empirical method, based on the Mg/(Fe2+ + Fe3+) ratios of coexisting spinel and biotite from experimental data, is used to deduce that the reaction occurred above ∼ 770 °C. A comparison of the natural reaction microstructures with those produced experimentally suggest that the xenolith was probably above 800 °C for less than 48 hours and cooled to temperatures of 770 °C after ∼ 150–200 hours.