Category Mineral Group
Chemical formula (Mg, Fe)2SiO4
Color Yellow to yellow-green
Crystal habit Massive to granular
Crystal system Orthorhombic
Cleavage Poor
Fracture Conchoidal – brittle
Mohs scale hardness 6.5–7
Luster Vitreous
Streak White
Diaphaneity Transparent to translucent
Specific gravity 3.27–3.37
Optical properties Biaxial (+)
Refractive index nα = 1.630–1.650
nβ = 1.650–1.670
nγ = 1.670–1.690
Birefringence δ = 0.040
References [1][2][3]

The mineral olivine (when gem-quality also called peridot) is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula (Mg,Fe)2SiO4. It is a common mineral in the Earth's subsurface but weathers quickly on the surface.

The ratio of magnesium and iron varies between the two endmembers of the solid solution series: forsterite (Mg-endmember) and fayalite (Fe-endmember). Compositions of olivine are commonly expressed as molar percentages of forsterite (Fo) and fayalite (Fa) (e.g., Fo70Fa30). Forsterite has an unusually high melting temperature at atmospheric pressure, almost 1900 °C, but the melting temperature of fayalite is much lower (about 1200 °C). The melting temperature varies smoothly between the two endmembers, as do other properties. Olivine incorporates only minor amounts of elements other than oxygen, silicon, magnesium and iron. Manganese and nickel commonly are the additional elements present in highest concentrations.

Olivine gives its name to the group of minerals with a related structure (the olivine group) which includes tephroite (Mn2SiO4), monticellite (CaMgSiO4) and kirschsteinite (CaFeSiO4).


Identification and paragenesis

Green sand is actually olivine crystals, which has been eroded from lava rocks
Peridotite xenoliths in basalt—olivines are light green crystals. Location: San Carlos Indian Reservation, Gila Co., Arizona, USA.
Lunar olivine basalt collected by Apollo 15.

Olivine is named for its typically olive-green color (thought to be a result of traces of nickel), though it may alter to a reddish color from the oxidation of iron.

Translucent olivine is sometimes used as a gemstone called peridot, the French word for olivine. It is also called chrysolite, from the Greek words for gold and stone. Some of the finest gem-quality olivine has been obtained from a body of mantle rocks on Zabargad island in the Red Sea.

Olivine/peridot occurs in both mafic and ultramafic igneous rocks and as a primary mineral in certain metamorphic rocks. Mg-rich olivine crystallizes from magma that is rich in magnesium and low in silica. That magma crystallizes to mafic rocks such as gabbro and basalt. Ultramafic rocks such as peridotite and dunite can be residues left after extraction of magmas, and typically they are more enriched in olivine after extraction of partial melts. Olivine and high pressure structural variants constitute over 50% of the Earth's upper mantle, and olivine is one of the Earth's most common minerals by volume. The metamorphism of impure dolomite or other sedimentary rocks with high magnesium and low silica content also produces Mg-rich olivine, or forsterite.

Fe-rich olivine is relatively much less common, but it occurs in igneous rocks in small amounts in rare granites and rhyolites, and extremely Fe-rich olivine can exist stably with quartz and tridymite. In contrast, Mg-rich olivine does not occur stably with silica minerals, as it would react with them to form orthopyroxene ((Mg,Fe)2Si2O6).

Mg-rich olivine is stable to pressures equivalent to a depth of about 410 km within Earth. Because it is thought to be the most abundant mineral in Earth’s mantle at shallower depths, the properties of olivine have a dominant influence upon the rheology of that part of Earth and hence upon the solid flow that drives plate tectonics. Experiments have documented that olivine at high pressures (e.g., 12 GPa, the pressure at depths of about 360 kilometers) can contain at least as much as about 8900 parts per million (weight) of water, and that such water contents drastically reduce the resistance of olivine to solid flow; moreover, because olivine is so abundant, more water may be dissolved in olivine of the mantle than contained in Earth's oceans.[4]

Mg-rich olivine has also been discovered in meteorites, on Mars and on the Moon. Such meteorites include chondrites, collections of debris from the early solar system, and pallasites, mixes of iron-nickel and olivine. The spectral signature of olivine has been seen in the dust disks around young stars. The tails of comets (which formed from the dust disk around the young Sun) often have the spectral signature of olivine, and the presence of olivine has recently been verified in samples of a comet from the Stardust spacecraft.[5]

Extraterrestrial occurrences

Olivine has also been identified in meteorites,[6] the Moon, Mars,[7] in the dust of comet Wild 2, within the core of comet Tempel 1,[8] falling into infant stars,[9] as well as on asteroid 25143 Itokawa.[10]

Crystal structure

Figure 1: The atomic scale structure of olivine looking along the a axis. Oxygen is shown in red, silicon in pink, and magnesium/iron in blue. A projection of the unit cell is shown by the black rectangle

Minerals in the olivine group crystallize in the orthorhombic system (space group Pbnm) with isolated silicate tetrahedra, meaning that olivine is a nesosilicate. In an alternative view, the atomic structure can be described as a hexagonal, close-packed array of oxygen ions with half of the octahedral sites occupied with magnesium or iron ions and one-eighth of the tetrahedral sites occupied by silicon ions.

There are three distinct oxygen sites (marked O1, O2 and O3 in figure 1), two distinct metal sites (M1 and M2) and only one distinct silicon site. O1, O2, M2 and Si all lie on mirror planes, while M1 exists on an inversion center. O3 lies in a general position.

High pressure polymorphs

At the high temperatures and pressures found at depth within the Earth the olivine structure is no longer stable. Below depths of about 410 km (250 mi) olivine undergoes a phase transition to the sorosilicate, wadsleyite and, at about 520 km (320 mi) depth, wadsleyite transforms into ringwoodite, which has the spinel structure. These phase transitions lead to a discontinuous increase in the density of the Earth's mantle that can be observed by seismic methods.

The pressure at which these phase transitions occur depends on temperature and iron content.[11] At 800 °C (1,070 K; 1,470 °F), the pure magnesium end member, forsterite, transforms to wadsleyite at 11.8 gigapascals (116,000 atm) and to ringwoodite at pressures above 14 GPa (138,000 atm). Increasing the iron content decreases the pressure of the phase transition and narrows the wadsleyite stability field. At about 0.8 mole fraction fayalite, olivine transforms directly to ringwoodite over the pressure range 10.0–11.5 GPa (99,000–113,000 atm). Fayalite transforms to Fe2SiO4 spinel at pressures below 5 GPa (49,000 atm). Increasing the temperature increases the pressure of these phase transitions.


Olivine weathering to iddingsite within a mantle xenolith

Olivine is one of the weaker common minerals on the surface according to the Goldich dissolution series. It weathers to iddingsite (a combination of clay minerals, iron oxides and ferrihydrites) readily in the presence of water.[12] The presence of iddingsite on Mars would suggest that liquid water once existed there, and might enable scientists to determine when there was last liquid water on the planet.[13]


A worldwide search is on for cheap processes to sequester CO2 by mineral reactions. Removal by reactions with olivine is an attractive option, because it is widely available and reacts easily with the (acid) CO2 from the atmosphere. When olivine is crushed, it weathers completely within a few years, depending on the grain size. All the CO2 that is produced by burning 1 liter of oil can be sequestered by less than 1 liter of olivine. The reaction is exothermic but slow. In order to recover the heat produced by the reaction to produce electricity, a large volume of olivine must be thermally well isolated. The end-products of the reaction are silicon dioxide, magnesium carbonate and small amounts of iron oxide.[14][15][16]

The aluminium foundry industry uses olivine sand to cast objects in aluminium. Olivine sand requires less water than silicon based sand while providing the necessary strength to hold the mold together during handling and pouring of the metal. Less water means less gas (steam) to vent from the mold as metal is poured into the mold.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Webmineral
  2. ^ Mindat
  3. ^ Klein, Cornelis; and C. S. Hurlburt (1985). Manual of Mineralogy (21st ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-80580-7. 
  4. ^ Smyth, J. R.; Frost, D. J.; Nestola, F.; Holl, C. M.; Bromiley, G. (2006). "Olivine hydration in the deep upper mantle: Effects of temperature and silica activity". Geophysical Research Letters 33 (15). doi:10.1029/2006GL026194. 
  5. ^ Press Release 06-091. Jet Propulsion Laboratory Stardust website, retrieved May 30, 2006.
  6. ^ Fukang and other Pallasites
  7. ^ Pretty Green Mineral.... Planetary Science Research Discoveries, Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology
  8. ^ Mission Update 2006... UMD Deep Impact Website, University of Maryland Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp. retrieved June 1, 2010
  9. ^ Spitzer Sees Crystal Rain... NASA Website
  10. ^ Japan says Hayabusa brought back asteroid grains... retrieved November 18, 2010
  11. ^ Deer, W. A.; R. A. Howie, and J. Zussman (1992). An Introduction to the Rock-Forming Minerals (2nd ed.). London: Longman. ISBN 0-582-30094-0. 
  12. ^ Kuebler; et al. (2003). "A Study of Olivine Alteration to Iddingsite Using Raman Spectroscopy". Lunar and Planetary Science 34: 1953. http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2003/pdf/1953.pdf. 
  13. ^ Swindle, T. D.; et al. (2000). "Noble Gases in Iddingsite from the Lafayette meteorite: Evidence for Liquid water on Mars in the last few hundred million years". Meteoritics and Planetary Science 35 (1): 107–115. doi:10.1111/j.1945-5100.2000.tb01978.x. 
  14. ^ Philip Goldberg et al. CO2 Mineral Sequestration Studies in US
  15. ^ Schuiling, R. D.; Krijgsman, P. (2006). "Enhanced Weathering: An Effective and Cheap Tool to Sequester Co2". Climatic Change 74: 349–354. doi:10.1007/s10584-005-3485-y. 
  16. ^ The Guide to Rocks and Minerals
  17. ^ Ammen, C.W. (1980). The Metal Caster's Bible. Blue Ridge Summit PA: TAB. pp. 331. ISBN 0-8306-9970-8. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Olivine — Catégorie IX : silicates[1] Cristaux d olivine dans gangue de basalte échantillonnée au …   Wikipédia en Français

  • olivine — [ ɔlivin ] n. f. • 1798; de olive ♦ Minér. Péridot d une variété verdâtre. Olivine altérée. ⇒ serpentine. ● olivine nom féminin Variété de péridot. olivine n. f. MINER Variété très répandue de péridot. ⇒OLIVINE, subst. fém. MINÉR. Péridot …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Olivine — Olivine,   Bezeichnung für eine Gruppe isotyper, rhombisch kristallisierender Silikatminerale, die in ihren morphologischen und physikalischen Eigenschaften dem Olivin stark ähneln und mit diesem Mischkristalle bilden. Chemisch bestehen die… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Olivine — Ol i*vine, n. [Cf. F. olivine.] (Min.) A common name of the yellowish green mineral chrysolite, esp. the variety found in eruptive rocks. It is a silicate of magnesium and iron ({(Mg,Fe)SiO4}). [1913 Webster +PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • olivine — 1. (o li vi n ) s. f. Terme de minéralogie. Voy. péridot. olivine 2. (o li vi n ) s. f. Terme de chimie. Corps obtenu par l action de l acide sulfurique concentré sur la salicine …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • Olivine — Olivine, s. Emulsinen …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • olivine — [äl′ə vēn΄] n. [ OLIV(E) + INE1] a hard, greenish mineral, (Mg,Fe) 2SiO4, that is an ore of magnesium, used as a refractory; magnesium iron silicate olivinic [ä′əvin′ik] adj …   English World dictionary

  • olivine — olivinic /ol euh vin ik/, olivinitic /ol euh vi nit ik/, adj. /ol euh veen , ol euh veen /, n. Mineral. any of a group of magnesium iron silicates, (Mg,Fe)2SiO4, occurring in olive green to gray green masses as an important constituent of basic… …   Universalium

  • Olivine — Olivingruppe Chemische Formel (Mg,Mn,Fe)2[SiO4] Mineralklasse Inselsilikate (Nesosilikate) siehe Einzelminerale (nach Strunz) siehe Einzelminerale (nach Dana …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • olivine —   No equivalent.    ♦ Rock with olivine, pōhaku pele ōma o.    ♦ Sand with olivine, one ōma o …   English-Hawaiian dictionary

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