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Home » Publications » Elements of Geology » Chapter 33

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Elements of Geology

 

The Student's Series


 

Written by Sir Charles Lyell, Bart., F.R.S., (1871)

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Chapter XXXIII

METAMORPHIC ROCKS.


General Character of Metamorphic Rocks. — Gneiss. — Hornblende-schist. — Serpentine. — Mica-schist. — Clay-slate. — Quartzite. — Chlorite-schist. — Metamorphic Limestone. — Origin of the metamorphic Strata. — Their Stratification. — Fossiliferous Strata near intrusive Masses of Granite converted into Rocks identical with different Members of the metamorphic Series. — Arguments hence derived as to the Nature of Plutonic Action. — Hydrothermal Action, or the Influence of Steam and Gases in producing Metamorphism. — Objections to the metamorphic Theory considered.

We have now considered three distinct classes of rocks: first, the aqueous, or fossiliferous; secondly, the volcanic; and, thirdly, the Plutonic; and it remains for us to examine those crystalline (or hypogene) strata to which the name of metamorphic has been assigned. The last-mentioned term expresses, as before explained, a theoretical opinion that such strata, after having been deposited from water, acquired, by the influence of heat and other causes, a highly crystalline texture. They who still question this opinion may call the rocks under consideration the stratified hypogene formations or crystalline schists.

These rocks, when in their characteristic or normal state, are wholly devoid of organic remains, and contain no distinct fragments of other rocks, whether rounded or angular. They sometimes break out in the central parts of mountain chains, but in other cases extend over areas of vast dimensions, occupying, for example, nearly the whole of Norway and Sweden, where, as in Brazil, they appear alike in the lower and higher grounds. However crystalline these rocks may become in certain regions, they never, like granite or trap, send veins into contiguous formations. In Great Britain, those members of the series which approach most nearly to granite in their composition, as gneiss, mica-schist, and hornblende-schist, are confined to the country north of the rivers Forth and Clyde.

Many attempts have been made to trace a general order of succession or superposition in the members of this family; clay-slate, for example, having been often supposed to hold invariably a higher geological position than mica-schist, and

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mica-schist to overlie gneiss. But although such an order may prevail throughout limited districts, it is by no means universal. To this subject, however, I shall again revert, in Chapter XXXV, where the chronological relations of the metamorphic rocks are pointed out.

Principal Metamorphic Rocks.—The following may be enumerated as the principal members of the metamorphic class:—gneiss, mica-schist, hornblende-schist, clay-slate, chlorite-schist, hypogene or metamorphic limestone, and certain kinds of quartz-rock or quartzite.

Fig. 622: Fragment of gneiss; section made at right angles to the planes of foliation.

Gneiss.—The first of these, gneiss, may be called stratified—or by those who object to that term, foliated—granite, being formed of the same materials as granite, namely, feldspar, quartz, and mica. In the specimen in Fig. 622, the white layers consist almost exclusively of granular feldspar, with here and there a speck of mica and grain of quartz. The dark layers are composed of grey quartz and black mica, with occasionally a grain of feldspar intermixed. The rock splits most easily in the plane of these darker layers, and the surface thus exposed is almost entirely covered with shining spangles of mica. The accompanying quartz, however, greatly predominates in quantity, but the most ready cleavage is determined by the abundance of mica in certain parts of the dark layer. Instead of consisting of these thin laminæ, gneiss is sometimes simply divided into thick beds, in which the mica has only a slight degree of parallelism to the planes of stratification.

Hand specimens may often be obtained from such gneiss which are undistinguishable from granite, affording an argument to which we shall allude in the concluding part of this chapter, in favour of those who regard all granite and syenite not as igneous rocks, but as aqueous formations so altered as to have lost all signs of their original stratified arrangement. Gneiss in geology is commonly used to designate not merely

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stratified and foliated rocks having the same component materials as granite or syenite, but also in a wider sense to embrace the formation with which other members of the metamorphic series, such as hornblende-schist, may alternate, and which are then considered subordinate to the true gneiss.

The different varieties of rock allied to gneiss, into which feldspar enters as an essential ingredient, will be understood by referring to what was said of granite. Thus, for example, hornblende may be superadded to mica, quartz, and feldspar, forming a hornblendic or syenitic gneiss; or talc may be substituted for mica, constituting talcose gneiss (called stratified protogine by the French), a rock composed of feldspar, quartz, and talc, in distinct crystals or grains.

Eurite, which has already been mentioned as a Plutonic rock, occurs also with precisely the same composition in beds subordinate to gneiss or mica-slate.

Hornblende-schist is usually black, and composed principally of hornblende, with a variable quantity of feldspar, and sometimes grains of quartz. When the hornblende and feldspar are in nearly equal quantities, and the rock is not slaty, it corresponds in character with the greenstones of the trap family, and has been called “primitive greenstone.” It may be termed hornblende rock, or amphibolite. Some of these hornblendic masses may really have been volcanic rocks, which have since assumed a more crystalline or metamorphic texture.

Serpentine is a greenish rock, a silicate of magnesia, in which there is sometimes from 30 to 40 per cent of magnesia. It enters largely into the composition of a trap dike cutting through Old Red Sandstone in Forfarshire, and in that case is probably an altered basaltic dike which had contained much olivine. The theory of its having been originally a volcanic product subsequently altered by metamorphism may at first sight seem inconsistent with its occurrence in large and regularly stratified masses in the metamorphic series in Scotland, as in Aberdeenshire. But it has been suggested in explanation that such serpentine may have been originally regularly-bedded trap tuff, and volcanic breccia, with much olivine, which would still retain a stratified appearance after their conversion into a metamorphic rock.

Actinolite Schist is a slaty foliated rock, composed chiefly of actinolite, an emerald-green mineral, allied to hornblende, with some admixture of garnet, mica, and quartz.

Mica-schist or Micaceous Schist is, next to gneiss, one of the most abundant rocks of the metamorphic series. It is slaty, essentially composed of mica and quartz, the mica

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sometimes appearing to constitute the whole mass. Beds of pure quartz also occur in this formation. In some districts, garnets in regular twelve-sided crystals form an integrant part of mica-schist. This rock passes by insensible gradations into clay-slate.

Clay-slate—Argillaceous Schist—Argillite.—This rock sometimes resembles an indurated clay or shale. It is for the most part extremely fissile, often affording good roofing-slate. Occasionally it derives a shining and silky lustre from the minute particles of mica or talc which it contains. It varies from greenish or bluish-grey to a lead colour; and it may be said of this, more than of any other schist, that it is common to the metamorphic and fossiliferous series, for some clay-slates taken from each division would not be distinguishable by mineral characters alone. It is not uncommon to meet with an argillaceous rock having the same composition, without the slaty cleavage, which may be called argillite.

Chlorite Schist is a green slaty rock, in which chlorite is abundant in foliated plates, usually blended with minute grains of quartz, or sometimes with feldspar or mica; often associated with, and graduating into, gneiss and clay-slate.

Quartzite, or Quartz Rock, is an aggregate of grains of quartz which are either in minute crystals, or in many cases slightly rounded, occurring in regular strata, associated with gneiss or other metamorphic rocks. Compact quartz, like that so frequently found in veins, is also found together with granular quartzite. Both of these alternate with gneiss or mica-schist, or pass into those rocks by the addition of mica, or of feldspar and mica.

Crystalline, or Metamorphic Limestone.—This hypogene rock, called by the earlier geologists primary limestone, is sometimes a white crystalline granular marble, which when in thick beds can be used in sculpture; but more frequently it occurs in thin beds, forming a foliated schist much resembling in colour and arrangement certain varieties of gneiss and mica-schist. When it alternates with these rocks, it often contains some crystals of mica, and occasionally quartz, feldspar, hornblende, talc, chlorite, garnet, and other minerals. It enters sparingly into the structure of the hypogene districts of Norway, Sweden, and Scotland, but is largely developed in the Alps.

Origin of the Metamorphic Strata.—Having said thus much of the mineral composition of the metamorphic rocks, I may combine what remains to be said of their structure and history with an account of the opinions entertained of their probable origin. At the same time, it may be well to

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forewarn the reader that we are here entering upon ground of controversy, and soon reach the limits where positive induction ends, and beyond which we can only indulge in speculations. It was once a favourite doctrine, and is still maintained by many, that these rocks owe their crystalline texture, their want of all signs of a mechanical origin, or of fossil contents, to a peculiar and nascent condition of the planet at the period of their formation. The arguments in refutation of this hypothesis will be more fully considered when I show, in Chapter XXXV, to how many different ages the metamorphic formations are referable, and how gneiss, mica-schist, clay-slate, and hypogene limestone (that of Carrara, for example) have been formed, not only since the first introduction of organic beings into this planet, but even long after many distinct races of plants and animals had flourished and passed away in succession.

The doctrine respecting the crystalline strata implied in the name metamorphic may properly be treated of in this place; and we must first inquire whether these rocks are really entitled to be called stratified in the strict sense of having been originally deposited as sediment from water. The general adoption by geologists of the term stratified, as applied to these rocks, sufficiently attests their division into beds very analogous, at least in form, to ordinary fossiliferous strata. This resemblance is by no means confined to the existence in both occasionally of a laminated structure, but extends to every kind of arrangement which is compatible with the absence of fossils, and of sand, pebbles, ripple-mark, and other characters which the metamorphic theory supposes to have been obliterated by Plutonic action. Thus, for example, we behold alike in the crystalline and fossiliferous formations an alternation of beds varying greatly in composition, colour, and thickness. We observe, for instance, gneiss alternating with layers of black hornblende-schist or of green chlorite-schist, or with granular quartz or limestone; and the interchange of these different strata may be repeated for an indefinite number of times. In the like manner, mica-schist alternates with chlorite-schist, and with beds of pure quartz or of granular limestone. We have already seen that, near the immediate contact of granitic veins and volcanic dikes, very extraordinary alterations in rocks have taken place, more especially in the neighbourhood of granite. It will be useful here to add other illustrations, showing that a texture undistinguishable from that which characterises the more crystalline metamorphic formations has actually been superinduced in strata once fossiliferous.

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Fossiliferous Strata rendered metamorphic by intrusive Masses of Granite.—In the southern extremity of Norway there is a large district, on the west side of the fiord of Christiania, which I visited in 1837 with the late Professor Keilhau, in which syenitic granite protrudes in mountain masses through fossiliferous strata, and usually sends veins into them at the point of contact. The stratified rocks, replete with shells and zoophytes, consist chiefly of shale, limestone, and some sandstone, and all these are invariably altered near the granite for a distance of from 50 to 400 yards. The aluminous shales are hardened, and have become flinty. Sometimes they resemble jasper. Ribboned jasper is produced by the hardening of alternate layers of green and chocolate-coloured schist, each stripe faithfully representing the original lines of stratification. Nearer the granite the schist often contains crystals of hornblende, which are even met with in some places for a distance of several hundred yards from the junction; and this black hornblende is so abundant that eminent geologists, when passing through the country, have confounded it with the ancient hornblende-schist, subordinate to the great gneiss formation of Norway. Frequently, between the granite and the hornblende-slate above-mentioned, grains of mica and crystalline feldspar appear in the schist, so that rocks resembling gneiss and mica-schist are produced. Fossils can rarely be detected in these schists, and they are more completely effaced in proportion to the more crystalline texture of the beds, and their vicinity to the granite.

Fig. 623: Ground-plan of altered slate and limestone near granite. Christiania. The arrows indicate the dip, and the oblique lines the strike of the beds.

In some places the siliceous matter of the schist becomes a granular quartz; and when hornblende and mica are added, the altered rock loses its stratification, and passes into a kind of granite. The limestone, which at points remote

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from the granite is of an earthy texture and blue colour, and often abounds in corals, becomes a white granular marble near the granite, sometimes siliceous, the granular structure extending occasionally upward of 400 yards from the junction; the corals being for the most part obliterated, though sometimes preserved, even in the white marble. Both the altered limestone and hardened slate contain garnets in many places, also ores of iron, lead, and copper, with some silver. These alterations occur equally whether the granite invades the strata in a line parallel to the general strike of the fossiliferous beds, or in a line at right angles to their strike, both of which modes of junction will be seen by the ground-plan in Fig. 623.*

The granite of Cornwall sends forth veins into a coarse argillaceous-schist, provincially termed killas. This killas is converted into hornblende-schist near the contact with the veins. These appearances are well seen at the junction of the granite and killas, in St. Michael’s Mount, a small island nearly 300 feet high, situated in the bay, at a distance of about three miles from Penzance. The granite of Dartmoor, in Devonshire, says Sir H. De la Beche, has intruded itself into the Carboniferous slate and slaty sandstone, twisting and contorting the strata, and sending veins into them. Hence some of the slate rocks have become “micaceous; others more indurated, and with the characters of mica-slate and gneiss; while others again appear converted into a hard zoned rock strongly impregnated with feldspar.”†

We learn from the investigation of M. Dufrenoy that in the eastern Pyrenees there are mountain masses of granite posterior in date to the formations called lias and chalk of that district, and that these fossiliferous rocks are greatly altered in texture, and often charged with iron-ore, in the neighbourhood of the granite. Thus in the environs of St. Martin, near St. Paul de Fenouillet, the chalky limestone becomes more crystalline and saccharoid as it approaches the granite, and loses all trace of the fossils which it previously contained in abundance. At some points, also, it becomes dolomitic, and filled with small veins of carbonate of iron, and spots of red iron-ore. At Rancie the lias nearest the granite is not only filled with iron-ore, but charged with pyrites, tremolite, garnet, and a new mineral somewhat allied to feldspar, called, from the place in the Pyrenees where it occurs, “couzeranite.”

“Hornblende-schist,” says Dr. MacCulloch, “may at first have been mere clay; for clay or shale is found altered by

* Keilhau, Gæa Norvegica, pp. 61-63.
† Geol. Manual, p. 479.

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trap into Lydian stone, a substance differing from hornblende-schist almost solely in compactness and uniformity of texture.”* “In Shetland,” remarks the same author, “argillaceous-schist (or clay-slate), when in contact with granite, is sometimes converted into hornblende-schist, the schist becoming first siliceous, and ultimately, at the contact, hornblende-schist.” In like manner gneiss and mica-schist may be nothing more than altered micaceous and argillaceous sandstones, granular quartz may have been derived from siliceous sandstone, and compact quartz from the same materials. Clay-slate may be altered shale, and granular marble may have originated in the form of ordinary limestone, replete with shells and corals, which have since been obliterated; and, lastly, calcareous sands and marls may have been changed into impure crystalline limestones.

The anthracite and plumbago associated with hypogene rocks may have been coal; for not only is coal converted into anthracite in the vicinity of some trap dikes, but we have seen that a like change has taken place generally even far from the contact of igneous rocks, in the disturbed region of the Appalachians. At Worcester, in the State of Massachusetts, 45 miles due west of Boston, a bed of plumbago and impure anthracite occurs, interstratified with mica-schist. It is about two feet in thickness, and has been made use of both as fuel, and in the manufacture of lead pencils. At the distance of 30 miles from the plumbago, there occurs, on the borders of Rhode Island, an impure anthracite in slates containing impressions of coal-plants of the genera Pecopteris, Neuropteris, Calamites, etc. This anthracite is intermediate in character between that of Pennsylvania and the plumbago of Worcester, in which last the gaseous or volatile matter (hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen) is to the carbon only in the proportion of three per cent. After traversing the country in various directions, I came to the conclusion that the carboniferous shales or slates with anthracite and plants, which in Rhode Island often pass into mica-schists, have at Worcester assumed a perfectly crystalline and metamorphic texture; the anthracite having been nearly transmuted into that state of pure carbon which is called plumbago or graphite.†

Now the alterations above described as superinduced in rocks by volcanic dikes and granite veins prove incontestably that powers exist in nature capable of transforming fossiliferous into crystalline strata, a very few simple elements

* Syst. of Geol., vol. i, pp. 210, 211.
† See Lyell, Quart. Geol. Journ., vol. i, p. 199.

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constituting the component materials common to both classes of rocks. These elements, which are enumerated in the table at p. 499, may be made to form new combinations by what has been termed Plutonic action, or those chemical changes which are no doubt connected with the passage of heat, unusually heated steam and waters, through the strata.

Hydrothermal Action, or the Influence of Steam and Gases in producing Metamorphism.—The experiments of Gregory Watt, in fusing rocks in the laboratory, and allowing them to consolidate by slow cooling, prove distinctly that a rock need not be perfectly melted in order that a re-arrangement of its component particles should take place, and a partial crystallisation ensue.* We may easily suppose, therefore, that all traces of shells and other organic remains may be destroyed, and that new chemical combinations may arise, without the mass being so fused as that the lines of stratification should be wholly obliterated. We must not, however, imagine that heat alone, such as may be applied to a stone in the open air, can constitute all that is comprised in Plutonic action. We know that volcanoes in eruption not only emit fluid lava, but give off steam and other heated gases, which rush out in enormous volume, for days, weeks, or years continuously, and are even disengaged from lava during its consolidation.

We also know that long after volcanoes have spent their force, hot springs continue for ages to flow out at various points in the same area. In regions, also, subject to violent earthquakes such springs are frequently observed issuing from rents, usually along lines of fault or displacement of the rocks. These thermal waters are most commonly charged with a variety of mineral ingredients, and they retain a remarkable uniformity of temperature from century to century. A like uniformity is also persistent in the nature of the earthy, metallic, and gaseous substances with which they are impregnated. It is well ascertained that springs, whether hot or cold, charged with carbonic acid, especially with hydrofluoric acid, which is often present in small quantities, are powerful causes of decomposition and chemical reaction in rocks through which they percolate.

The changes which Daubrée has shown to have been produced by the alkaline waters of Plombières in the Vosges, are more especially instructive.† These waters have a heat of 160° F., or an excess of 109° above the average temperature of ordinary springs in that district. They were

* Phil. Trans., 1804.
† Daubrée, Sur le Métamorphisme. Paris, 1860.

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conveyed by the Romans to baths through long conduits or aqueducts. The foundations of some of their works consisted of a bed of concrete made of lime, fragments of brick, and sandstone. Through this and other masonry the hot waters have been percolating for centuries, and have given rise to various zeolites—apophyllite and chabazite among others; also to calcareous spar, arragonite, and fluor spar, together with siliceous minerals, such as opal—all found in the inter-spaces of the bricks and mortar, or constituting part of their re-arranged materials. The quantity of heat brought into action in this instance in the course of 2000 years has, no doubt, been enormous, but the intensity of it developed at any one moment has been always inconsiderable.

From these facts and from the experiments and observations of Sénarmont, Daubrée, Delesse, Scheerer, Sorby, Sterry Hunt, and others, we are led to infer that when in the bowels of the earth there are large volumes of matter containing water and various acids intensely heated under enormous pressure, these subterranean fluid masses will gradually part with their heat by the escape of steam and various gases through fissures, producing hot springs; or by the passage of the same through the pores of the overlying and injected rocks. Even the most compact rocks may be regarded, before they have been exposed to the air and dried, in the light of sponges filled with water. According to the experiments of Henry, water, under a hydrostatic pressure of 96 feet, will absorb three times as much carbonic acid gas as it can under the ordinary pressure of the atmosphere. There are other gases, as well as the carbonic acid, which water absorbs, and more rapidly in proportion to the amount of pressure. Although the gaseous matter first absorbed would soon be condensed, and part with its heat, yet the continual arrival of fresh supplies from below might, in the course of ages, cause the temperature of the water, and with it that of the containing rock, to be materially raised; the water acts not only as a vehicle of heat, but also by its affinity for various silicates, which, when some of the materials of the invaded rocks are decomposed, form quartz, feldspar, mica, and other minerals. As for quartz, it can be produced under the influence of heat by water holding alkaline silicates in solution, as in the case of the Plombières springs. The quantity of water required, according to Daubrée, to produce great transformations in the mineral structure of rocks, is very small. As to the heat required, silicates may be produced in the moist way at about incipient red heat, whereas to form the same in the dry way would require a much higher temperature.

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M. Fournet, in his description of the metalliferous gneiss near Clermont, in Auvergne, states that all the minute fissures of the rock are quite saturated with free carbonic acid gas; which gas rises plentifully from the soil there and in many parts of the surrounding country. The various elements of the gneiss, with the exception of the quartz, are all softened; and new combinations of the acid with lime, iron, and manganese are continually in progress.*

The power of subterranean gases is well illustrated by the stufas of St. Calogero in the Lipari Islands, where the horizontal strata of tuffs, forming cliffs 200 feet high, have been discoloured in places by the jets of steam often above the boiling point, called “stufas,” issuing from the fissures; and similar instances are recorded by M. Virlet of corrosion of rocks near Corinth, and by Dr. Daubeny of decomposition of trachytic rocks by sulphureted hydrogen and muriatic acid gases in the Solfatara, near Naples. In all these instances it is clear that the gaseous fluids must have made their way through vast thicknesses of porous or fissured rocks, and their modifying influence may spread through the crust for thousands of yards in thickness.

It has been urged as an argument against the metamorphic theory, that rocks have a small power of conducting heat, and it is true that when dry, and in the air, they differ remarkably from metals in this respect. The syenite of Norway, as we have seen (p. 558), has sometimes altered fossiliferous strata both in the direction of their dip and strike for a distance of a quarter of a mile, but the theory of gneiss and mica-schist above proposed requires us to imagine that the same influence has extended through strata miles in thickness. Professor Bischof has shown what changes may be superinduced, on black marble and other rocks, by the steam of a hot spring having a temperature of no more than 133° to 167° Fahrenheit, and we are becoming more and more acquainted with the prominent part which water is playing in distributing the heat of the interior through mountain masses of incumbent strata, and of introducing into them various mineral elements in a fluid or gaseous state. Such facts may induce us to consider whether many granites and other rocks of that class may not sometimes represent merely the extreme of a similar slow metamorphism. But, on the other hand, the heat of lava in a volcanic crater when it is white and glowing like the sun must convince us that the temperature of a column of such a fluid at the depth of many miles exceeds any heat which can ever be witnessed at the surface.

* See Principles, Index, “Carbonated Springs,” etc.

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That large portions of the Plutonic rocks had been formed under the influence of such intense heat is in perfect accordance with their great volume, uniform composition, and absence of stratification. The forcing also of veins into contiguous stratified or schistose rocks is a natural consequence of the hydrostatic pressure to which columns of molten matter many miles in height must give rise.

Objections to the Metamorphic Theory considered.—It has been objected to the metamorphic theory that the crystalline schists contain a considerable proportion of potash and soda, whilst the sedimentary strata out of which they are supposed to have been formed are usually wanting in alkaline matter. But this reasoning proceeds on mistaken data, for clay, marl, shale, and slate often contain a considerable proportion of alkali, so much so as to make them frequently unfit to be burnt into bricks or pottery, and the Old Red Sandstone in Forfarshire and other parts of Scotland, derived from disintegration of granite, contains much triturated feldspar rich in potash. In the common salt by which strata are often largely impregnated, as in Patagonia, much soda is present, and potash enters largely into the composition of fossil sea-weeds, and recent analysis has also shown that the carboniferous strata in England, the Upper and Lower Silurian in East Canada, and the oldest clay-slates in Norway, all contain as much alkali as is generally present in metamorphic rocks.

Another objection has been derived from the alternation of highly crystalline strata with others less crystalline. The heat, it is said, in its ascent from below, must have traversed the less altered schists before it reached a higher and more crystalline bed. In answer to this, it may be observed, that if a number of strata differing greatly in composition from each other be subjected to equal quantities of heat, or hydrothermal action, there is every probability that some will be much more fusible or soluble than others. Some, for example, will contain soda, potash, lime, or some other ingredient capable of acting as a flux or solvent; while others may be destitute of the same elements, and so refractory as to be very slightly affected by the same causes. Nor should it be forgotten that, as a general rule, the less crystalline rocks do really occur in the upper, and the more crystalline in the lower part of each metamorphic series.

historical
 

Elements of Geology

 

The Student's Series


 

Written by Sir Charles Lyell, Bart., F.R.S., (1871)

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