Variolite

Variolites (Latin "varius", "speckled, variegated") are a group of dark green basic igneous rocks that, especially on weathered surfaces, exhibit pale colored spots, or spherules, that give them a pockmarked appearance. In some conditions these spots weather out prominently; they are grey, pale green, violet or yellowish, while the matrix of the rock is usually dark green.

The variolites are related most closely to the basalts or diabases. They are nearly always much decomposed, and, since they are also fine-grained rocks, their original composition may be much obscured by secondary changes. The variolitic spots are rounded in outline and are often about a quarter-inch in diameter, but may exceed this size. They have a radiate structure and are sometimes, though not generally, zoned with concentric circles of different appearance and composition. Many authors have compared them with the spherules of the acid rocks (obsidians and rhyolites), and undoubtedly some kinds of variolite are merely glassy spherulitic varieties of basalt. The tachylyte selvages of the dolerite dikes of the west of Scotland, for example, often contain large brown spherules that are easily visible in hand specimens. These spherulites consist of very thin divergent fibers, and their nature is often difficult to determine on account of the indefiniteness of the optical characteristics of minerals in this state. It seems probable, however, that they are mostly feldspar embedded in dark brown glass. Small phenocrysts or skeleton crystals of olivine, augite and plagioclase feldspar may occur in these tachylytes.

Other variolites are glassy or partly crystalline facies of olivine-free dolerites, occurring as thin dikes or intrusions or at the margins of dolerite masses. In these the feldspars are well crystallized as thin rods with square or forked ends radiating outwards from a center. They are commonly oligoclase, and sometimes assume branching or feathery forms. Some authors would call these sphero-crystals rather than spherules; they are an intermediate stage between the latter and the stellate groupings of feldspar that occurs frequently in igneous rocks. In the same rocks augite spherules occur also, but this mineral forms plumose growths, branching and curved, which spread through the glassy base and do not interfere with the feldspar spherules. Occasionally olivine-dolerites have a coarsely spherulic structure with long rods of plagioclase feldspar converging to a point; one example of these rocks from Skye contains variolites over three inches in diameter.

Another group of variolites includes the most famous rock of this type, which comes from the Durance, in France. Pebbles of this were well known to collectors for a long time before they were traced to their source at Mont Genvre. They were proved to belong to a diabasic rock that shows well-marked pillow-structure or spheroidal jointing. Each pillow has a marginal portion which is variolitic, but towards the center of the block-shaped masses the structure becomes coarse and groups of radiate feldspars make their appearance. It is doubtful whether the variolite is an intrusive rock or a lava flow. Many of these pillow lavas (or spilities) occur in the Devonian rocks of Germany, and they often have variolitic facies which seem to belong to the same group as the rock of the Durance. Their spherulites are very often oligoclase feldspar or decomposition products after a felspathic mineral. In other cases they consist of chlorite or pale green amphibole, both of which may be secondary after pyroxene. The ground mass is very fine grained and is filled with chlorite, epidote, leucoxene, and other secondary minerals. There is much reason to believe that it was originally in large measure vitreous, but has suffered devitrifaction. Sometimes little steam cavities occur and may serve as a nucleus from which the variolite has grown. The radiate structure of the varioles is often nearly obliterated in these much-decomposed rocks, in fact it may never have been very perfect. Variolites are found also in several parts of the Swiss Alps at Jatluga on Lake Onega, in Anglesey, the Lleyn district and Fishguard in Wales, in Cornwall, and in more than one place in Ireland.

Finally, there is a group of spotted rocks formerly known to French petrographers as the "variolites du Drac" from the locality in which they are found, but they have been proved to be merely vesicular, rotten diabases, with steam cavities filled with white calcite and other secondary minerals.


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  • variolite — ● variolite nom féminin (de variolé) Roche basaltique à sphérolites d albite, que l on trouve en galets dans la Durance et qui correspond à des fragments d écorce de pillow lavas. variolite [vaʀjɔlit] n. f. ÉTYM. Mil. XXe; de variole, et ite. ❖ ♦ …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Variolite — Va ri*o*lite, n. [L. varius various + lite: cf. F. variolite.] (Geol.) A kind of diorite or diabase containing imbedded whitish spherules, which give the rock a spotted appearance. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • variolite — [ver′ē ə līt΄] n. 〚Ger variolit < ML variola (see VARIOLA): from its pitted surface〛 Geol. any igneous rock containing varioles * * * var·i·o·lite (vârʹē ə līt , vărʹ ) n. A basic rock whose pockmarked appearance is caused by the presence of num …   Universalium

  • variolite — [ver′ē ə līt΄] n. [Ger variolit < ML variola (see VARIOLA): from its pitted surface] Geol. any igneous rock containing varioles …   English World dictionary

  • Variolite — La variolite, du latin « variola » est une roche de texture compacte de couleur vert clair, dont le relief présente de petits boutons blanchâtres en forme de pustules qui lui a valu son nom, attribué par le géologue et minéralogiste… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • variolite — (va ri o li t ) s. f. Roche de cristallisation, constituée par une pâte de pétrosilex de diverses couleurs, renfermant des noyaux sphéroïdaux de pétrosilex, dont la couleur diffère de celle de la pâte, dite aussi pierre à picot, pierre de la… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • variolite — GLOSSARY OF VOLCANIC TERMS A spherulite like radiating aggregate composed of feathery, needle like crystals of plagioclase and pyroxene that occur in mafic volcanic rocks (typically basalt). Variolites may result from devitrification, but are… …   Glossary of volcanic terms

  • variolite — var·i·o·lite …   English syllables

  • variolite — /ˈvɛəriəlaɪt/ (say vairreeuhluyt) noun any of certain fine grained, basic igneous rocks containing light coloured spherules, which, especially on weathered surfaces, give them a pockmarked appearance. {variol(a) + ite1} …   Australian English dictionary

  • variolite — n. a rock with embedded small spherical masses causing on its surface an appearance like smallpox pustules. Derivatives: variolitic adj. Etymology: as VARIOLE + ITE(1) …   Useful english dictionary


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