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Home Minerals Olivine

Olivine


A group of rock-forming minerals found in Earth's crust.   An abundant mineral in Earth's mantle.   A constituient of many meteorites.


What is Olivine?



Olivine is the name of a group of rock-forming minerals that are typically found in mafic and ultramafic igneous rocks such as basalt, gabbro, dunite, diabase, and peridotite. They are usually green in color and have compositions that typically range between Mg2SiO4 and Fe2SiO4. Many people are familiar with olivine because it is the mineral of a very popular green gemstone known as peridot.


Geological Occurrence of Olivine



Most olivine found at Earth's surface is in dark-colored igneous rocks. It usually crystalizes in the presence of plagioclase and pyroxene to form gabbro or basalt. These types of rocks are most common at divergent plate boundaries and at hot spots with in the centers of tectonic plates.

Olivine has a very high crystallization temperature compared to other minerals. That makes it one of the first minerals to crystallize from a magma. During the slow cooling of a magma, crystals of olivine may form and then settle to the bottom of the magma chamber because of their relatively high density. This concentrated accumulation of olivine can result in the formation of olivine-rich rocks such as dunite in the lower parts of a magma chamber.

Crystals of olivine are sometimes formed during the metamorphism of a dolomitic limestone or dolomite. The dolomite contributes magnesium and silica is obtained from quartz and other impurities in the limestone. When olivine is metamorphosed it is transformed into serpentine.

Olivine is one of the first minerals to be altered by weathering. Because it is so easily altered by weathering, olivine is not a common mineral in sedimentary rocks and is only an abundant constituent of sand or sediment when the deposit is very close to the source.


Composition of Olivine



Olivine is the name given to a group of silicate minerals that have a generalized chemical composition of A2SiO4. In that generalized composition, "A" is usually Mg or Fe, but in unusual situations can be Ca, Mn or Ni.

The chemical composition of most olivine falls somewhere between pure forsterite (Mg2SiO4) and pure fayalite (Fe2SiO4). In that series Mg and Fe can substitute freely for one another in the mineral's atomic structure - in any ratio. This type of continuous compositional variation is known as a "solid solution" and is represented in a chemical formula as (Mg,Fe)2SiO4.

The name "olivine" is used instead of "forsterite" or "fayalite" because a chemical analysis or other detailed testing is needed to determine which one is dominant - if either is dominant. The name "olivine" serves as a quick, convenient and inexpensive way to put a name on the material. A list of the more common olivine minerals and their composition is given in the table below.

Olivine Minerals

Mineral Chemical Composition
Forsterite Mg2SiO4
Fayalite Fe2SiO4
Monticellite CaMgSiO4
Kirschteinite CaFeSiO4
Tephroite Mn2SiO4

Olivine receives its name from its usual olive-green color. Many geology students remember the color of olivine by using a rhyme: "olivine is green". That rhyme is true with most classroom specimens; however, there are rare iron-rich olivines (fayalites) that are brownish in color.


Olivine in Earth's Mantle



Olivine is thought to be an important mineral in Earth's mantle. Its presence as a mantle mineral has been inferred by a change in the behavior of seismic waves as they cross the Moho - the boundary between Earth's crust and mantle.

The presence of olivine in Earth's interior is also confirmed by the presence of olivine in xenoliths, which are thought to be pieces of the upper mantle delivered to Earth's surface in the magmas of deep-source volcanic eruptions. Olivine is also an abundant mineral in the lower portion of many ophiolites. These are slabs of oceanic crust (with part of the upper mantle attached) that have been thrust up onto an island or a continent.


Extraterrestrial Olivine



Olivine has been identified in a large number of stony and stony-iron meteorites. These meteorites are thought to have originated from the mantle of a rocky planet that used to occupy an orbit between Mars and Jupiter - or they might be from an asteroid that was large enough to have developed a differentiated internal structure consisting of a rock mantle and a metallic core.

Pallasites are thought to represent the part of an asteroid or planet that was near the mantle-core boundary where rocky materials of the mantle were mixed with the metallic materials of the core. Pallasites typically have distinct crystals of olivine (usually fayalite) surrounded by a nickel-iron matrix. A photograph of a slice from a pallasite meteorite is in the right column of this page.


Physical Properties of Olivine



Olivine is usually green in color but can also be yellow-green, greenish yellow or brown. It is transparent to translucent with a glassy luster and a hardness between 6.5 and 7.0. It is the only common igneous mineral with these properties. The properties of olivine are summarized in the table below.

Physical Properties of Olivine

Chemical Classification silicate
Color usually olive green, but can be yellow-green to bright green, iron-rich specimens are brownish-green to brown
Streak colorless
Luster vitreous
Diaphaneity transparent to translucent
Cleavage poor cleavage, brittle with conchoidal fracture
Mohs Hardness 6.5 to 7
Specific Gravity 3.2 to 4.4
Diagnostic Properties green color, vitreous luster, conchoidal fracture, granular texture
Chemical Composition typically (Mg, Fe)2SiO4, Ca, Mn and Ni rarely occupy the Mg and Fe positions
Crystal System orthorhombic
Uses gemstones, a declining use in bricks and refractory sand


Uses of Olivine



Olivine is a mineral that is not often used in industry. Most olivine is used in metallurgical processes as a slag conditioner. High magnesium olivine (forsterite) is added to blast furnaces to remove impurities from steel and to form a slag.

Olivine has also been used as a refractory material. It is used to make refractory brick and used as a casting sand. Both of these uses are in decline as alternative materials are less expensive and easier to obtain.


Olivine and the Gemstone Peridot



Olivine is also the mineral of the gemstone known as "peridot". It is a yellow-green to green gemstone that is very popular in jewelry. Peridot serves as a birthstone for the month of August. The most valued colors are dark olive green and a bright lime green. These specimens are of the mineral forsterite because the iron-rich fayalite is usually a brownish, less desirable color.

Much of the world's peridot used in mass production jewelry is mined at the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona. There, a few basalt flows containing nodules or granular olivine are the source of the peridot. Most of the stones produced there are a few carats or less in size and often contain visible crystals of chromite or other minerals. They are cut in Asia and returned to the United States in commercial jewelry.

Higher quality and larger peridot crystals are mined in Pakistan and Myanmar. There, crystals of olivine are found in metamorphic rocks. These are usually found in association with serpentine or dolomitic marble.



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Olivine in basalt
Basalt with olivine xenoliths from an basalt flow in Arizona. These xenoliths often contain crystals of olivine with a color and clarity that is suitable for use as a peridot gemstone. This specimen is approximately 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) across.


Olivine peridot rough
These two specimens are peridot, a gem variety of olivine, from a deposit in Arizona. At this deposit the olivine occurs as xenoliths in a basalt flow. These specimens are approximately 12 millimeters across.




Olivine
Olivine from Mitchell County, North Carolina. Specimen is approximately 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) across.


Olivine peridot rough
A part slice of the Esquel pallasite from Chubut, Argentina. The large, colorful, oblong olivine crystals are typical of this meteorite. Note the way in which crystals near the rough (natural) edge have turned orange and yellow due to terrestrial weathering, while the crystals nearer to the center of the original mass have retained their true olive green color. Photograph by Geoffrey Notkin Aerolite Meteorites used with permission. 


Olivine gemstone
Cut gemstone peridot, a variety of olivine, from Arizona. This gem on the right is about 1.3 carats, and approximately 8 millimeters by 5 millimeters.


Olivine peridot pendant
Peridot, a variety of olivine, cut into a pear shape gem, from Arizona. This gemstone is 2.8 carats, and approximately 12 millimeters by 6 millimeters. It has numerous chromite inclusions.


Mineral Information
 Anhydrite
 Apatite
 Arsenopyrite
 Augite
 Azurite

 Barite
 Bauxite
 Beryl
 Biotite
 Bornite

 Calcite
 Cassiterite
 Chalcocite
 Chalcopyrite
 Chlorite
 Chromite
 Chrysoberyl
 Cinnabar
 Clinozoisite
 Copper
 Cordierite
 Corundum
 Cuprite
 Diamond
 Diopside
 Dolomite

 Enstatite
 Epidote

 Fluorite

 Galena
 Garnet
 Glauconite
 Gold
 Graphite
 Gypsum

 Halite
 Hematite
 Hornblende

 Ilmenite

 Jadeite

 Kyanite
 Limonite

 Magnesite
 Magnetite
 Malachite
 Marcasite
 Molybdenite
 Monazite
 Muscovite

 Nepheline
 Nephrite

 Olivine
 Orthoclase

 Plagioclase
 Prehnite
 Pyrite
 Pyrophyllite
 Pyrrhotite

 Quartz

 Rhodochrosite
 Rhodonite
 Rutile
 Scapolite
 Serpentine
 Siderite
 Sillimanite
 Silver
 Sodalite
 Sphalerite
 Spinel
 Spodumene
 Staurolite
 Sulfur
 Sylvite

 Talc
 Titanite
 Topaz
 Tourmaline
 Turquoise

 Uraninite

 Witherite
 Wollastonite

 Zircon
 Zoisite


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