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Clay crystal-chemical adaptability and transformation mechanisms

  • J. Cuadros (a1)


Chemical and mineralogical transformations of phyllosilicates are among the most important in diagenetic environments in all types of rocks because they can exert a large control on the processes taking place in such environments and/or provide constraints for the conditions in which phyllosilicate transformation occurred. Dissolution-precipitation and solid-state transformation are usually the two mechanisms proposed for such reactions depending on the crystal-chemical and morphological similarities between parent and neoformed phases together with knowledge of the environmental conditions. These two mechanisms, however, may be at both ends of the spectrum of those operating and many transformations may take place through a mixture of the two mechanisms, generating observable elements that are characteristic of one or the other. In the present literature, the boundaries between the two mechanisms are not clear, mainly because dissolution-precipitation is sometimes defined at nearly atomic scale. It is proposed here that such small-scale processes are considered as a solid-state transformation, and that dissolution-precipitation requires dissolution of entire mineral particles and their dissolved species to pass into the bulk of the solution. Understanding the reaction mechanisms of diagenetic transformations is an important issue because they impinge on geochemical conditions and variables such as cation mobility, rock volume, fabric changes, rock permeability, stable isotope signature and phyllosilicate crystal-chemistry.

I propose that, in the lower range temperatures at which clay mineral transformations take place, energy considerations favour solid-state transformation, or reactions that involve the breaking of a limited number of bonds, over dissolution of entire grains and precipitation of crystals of the new phase. Large morphological changes are frequently invoked as evidence for a dissolution-precipitation mechanism but changes in particle shape and size may be achieved by particle rupture, particle welding or by hybrid processes in which dissolution-precipitation plays a minor role.

Past and recent studies of phyllosilicate transformations show chemical and structural intermediates indicating a large crystal-chemical versatility, greater than is commonly recognized. These intermediates include tetrahedral sheets of different composition within TOT units (termed polar layers), dioctahedral and trioctahedral domains in the same layer, and 2:1 and 1:1 domains also within the same layers. The existence of such intermediate structures suggests that the reaction mechanisms that generated them are within the realm of the solid-state transformation processes.

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Copyright © The Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland 2012 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license. (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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