l>Metamorphic Rocks
EENS 1110

Physical Geology

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Metamorphism and Metamorphic Rocks

Definition of Metamorphism

The word "Metamorphism" comes from the Greek: meta = after, morph = form, so metamorphism means the after form. In geology this refers to the changes in mineral assemblage and texture that result from subjecting a rock to pressures and temperatures different from those under which the rock originally formed. The original rock that has undergone metamorphism is called the protolith. Protolith can be any type of rock and sometimes the changes in texture and mineralogy are so dramatic that is difficult to distinguish what the protolith was. Note that diagenesis and weathering are also a changes in form that occur in rocks. In geology, however, we restrict diagenetic processes to those which occur at temperatures below 200oC and pressures below about 300 MPa (MPa stands for Mega Pascals), this is equivalent to about 3,000 atmospheres of pressure.

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Metamorphism therefore occurs at temperatures and pressures higher than 200oC and 300 MPa. Rocks can be subjected to these higher temperatures and pressures as they become buried deeper in the Earth. Such burial usually takes place as a result of tectonic processes such as continental collisions or subduction. The upper limit of metamorphism occurs at the pressure and temperature of wet partial melting of the rock in question. Once melting begins, the process changes to an igneous process rather than a metamorphic process. During metamorphism the protolith undergoes changes in texture of the rock and the mineral make up of the rock. These changes take place mostly in the solid state and are caused by changes in physical or chemical conditions, which in turn can be caused by such things as burial, tectonic stress, heating by magma or interactions with fluids.

Factors that Control Metamorphism

Metamorphism occurs because rocks undergo changes in temperature and pressure and may be subjected to differential stress and hydrothermal fluids. Metamorphism occurs because some minerals are stable only under certain conditions of pressure and temperature. When pressure and temperature change, chemical reactions occur to cause the minerals in the rock to change to an assemblage that is stable at the new pressure and temperature conditions. But, the process is complicated by such things as how the pressure is applied, the time over which the rock is subjected to the higher pressure and temperature, and whether or not there is a fluid phase present during metamorphism. Temperature Temperature increases with depth in the Earth along the Geothermal Gradient. Thus higher temperature can occur by burial of rock. Temperature can also increase due to igneous intrusion. Pressure increases with depth of burial, thus, both pressure and temperature will vary with depth in the Earth. Pressure is defined as a force acting equally from all directions. It is a type of stress, called hydrostatic stress, or uniform stress. If the stress is not equal from all directions, then the stress is called a differential stress.


There are two kinds of differential stress. Normal stress causes objects to be compressed in the direction of maximum principal stress and extended in the direction of minimal stress. If differential stress is present during metamorphism, it can have a profound effect on the texture of the rock. Shear stress causes objects to be smeared out in the direction of applied stress.

Differential stress if acting on a rocks can have a profound affect on the appearance or texture of the rock.

Rounded grains can become flattened in the direction of maximum stress.


Minerals that crystallize or grow in the differential stress field can have a preferred orientation. This is especially true of the sheet silicate minerals (the micas: biotite and muscovite, chlorite, talc, and serpentine).
These sheet silicates will grow with their sheets orientated perpendicular to the direction of maximum stress. Preferred orientation of sheet silicates causes rocks to be easily broken along approximately parallel sheets. Such a structure is called a foliation.
Fluid Phase.- Any existing open space between mineral grains in a rock can potentially contain a fluid. This fluid is mostly H2O, but contains dissolved ions. The fluid phase is important because chemical reactions that involve changing a solid mineral into a new solid mineral can be greatly speeded up by having dissolved ions transported by the fluid. If chemical alteration of the rock takes place as a result of these fluids, the process is called metasomatism. Time - Because metamorphism involves changing the rock while it is solid, metamorphic change is a slow process.During metamorphism, several processes are at work. Recrystallization causes changes in minerals size and shape. Chemical reactions occur between the minerals to form new sets of minerals that are more stable at the pressure and temperature of the environment, and new minerals form as a result of polymorphic phase transformations (recall that polymorphs are compounds with the same chemical formula, but different crystal structures. Laboratory experiments suggest that the the sizes of the mineral grains produced during metamorphism increases with time. Thus coarse grained metamorphic rocks involve long times of metamorphism. Experiments suggest that the time involved is tens of millions of years.

Grade of Metamorphism

Metamorphic grade is a general term for describing the relative temperature and pressure conditions under which metamorphic rocks form. As the temperature and/or pressure increases on a body of rock we say that the rock undergoes prograde metamorphism or that the grade of metamorphism increases.

Low-grade metamorphism takes place at temperatures between about 200 to 320oC, and relatively low pressure. Low grade metamorphic rocks are characterized by an abundance of hydrous minerals (minerals that contain water, H2O, in their crystal structure).

Examples of hydrous minerals that occur in low grade metamorphic rocks: Clay Mineralns Serpentine Chlorite High-grade metamorphism takes place at temperatures greater than 320oC and relatively high pressure. As grade of metamorphism increases, hydrous minerals become less hydrous, by losing H2O and non-hydrous minerals become more common.

Examples of less hydrous minerals and non-hydrous minerals that characterize high grade metamorphic rocks:

Muscovite - hydrous mineral that eventually disappears at the highest grade of metamorphism Biotite - a hydrous mineral that is stable to very high grades of metamorphism. Pyroxene - a non hydrous mineral. Garnet - a non hydrous mineral.

Retrograde Metamorphism

As temperature and pressure fall due to erosion of overlying rock or due to tectonic uplift, one might expect metamorphism to a follow a reverse path and eventually return the rocks to their original unmetamorphosed state. Such a process is referred to as retrograde metamorphism. If retrograde metamorphism were common, we would not commonly see metamorphic rocks at the surface of the Earth. Since we do see metamorphic rocks exposed at the Earth"s surface retrograde metamorphism does not appear to be common. The reasons for this include: chemical reactions take place more slowly as temperature is decreased during prograde metamorphism, fluids such as H2O and CO2 are driven off, and these fluids are necessary to form the hydrous minerals that are stable at the Earth"s surface. chemical reactions take place more rapidly in the presence of fluids, but if the fluids are driven off during prograde metamorphism, they will not be available to speed up reactions during retrograde metamorphism.

Metamorphic Rock Types

There are two major subdivisions of metamorphic rocks. Foliated – These have a planar foliation caused by the preferred orientation (alignment) of minerals and formed under differential stress. They have a significant amount of sheet silicate (platy minerals and are classified by composition, grain size, and foliation type. Non-foliated – These have no evident planar fabric or foliation, crystallized under conditions where there was no differential stress, and are comprised of equant minerals only. These are classified mainly by the minerals present or the chemical composition of the protolith. Foliated Metamorphic Rocks

Example - metamorphism of a shale, made up initially of clay minerals and quartz all of clay or silt size.
Slate- Slates form at low metamorphic grade by the growth of fine grained chlorite and clay minerals. The preferred orientation of these sheet silicates causes the rock to easily break along the planes parallel to the sheet silicates, causing a slatey cleavage. Note that in the case shown here, the maximum stress is applied at an angle to the original bedding planes, so that the slatey cleavage has developed at an angle to the original bedding. Because of the nearly perfect breakage along planes, slates are useful for blackboards and shingles. Phyllite - Fine mica-rich rock, formed by low – medium grade metamorphism. In a phyllite, the clay minerals have recrystallized into tiny micas (biotite and muscovite which reflect a satiny luster. Phyllite is between slate and schist.
Schist - The size of the mineral grains tends to enlarge with increasing grade of metamorphism. Eventually the rock develops a near planar foliation caused by the preferred orientation of sheet silicates (mainly biotite and muscovite). Quartz and Feldspar grains, however show no preferred orientation. The irregular planar foliation at this stage is called schistosity.

Schist often has other minerals besides micas. These include minerals like - Quartz, Feldspars, Kyanite, Garnet, Staurolite, and Sillimanite. When these non-mica minerals occur with a grain size greater than the rest of the rock, they are called pophyroblasts.

Gneiss As metamorphic grade increases, the sheet silicates become unstable and dark colored minerals like hornblende and pyroxene start to grow. These dark colored minerals tend to become segregated in distinct bands through the rock, giving the rock a gneissic banding. Because the dark colored minerals tend to form elongated crystals, rather than sheet- like crystals, they still have a preferred orientation with their long directions perpendicular to the maximum differential stress.
Granulite - At the highest grades of metamorphism all of the hydrous minerals and sheet silicates become unstable and thus there are few minerals present that would show a preferred orientation. The resulting rock will have a granulitic texture that is similar to a phaneritic texture in igneous rocks. Migmatites – If the temperature reaches the solidus temperature (first melting temperature), the rock may begin to melt and start to co-mingle with the solids. Usually these melts are felsic with the mafic material remaining metamorphic.
Non-foliated Metamorphic Rocks

Non-foliated rocks lack a planar cloth . Absence of foliation possible for several reasons:

Rock not subjected to differential stress. Dominance of equant minerals (like quartz, feldspar, and garnet). Absence of platy minerals (sheet silicates).

Non-foliated rocks are given specific names based on their mineralogy and composition: Amphibolite - These rocks are dark colored rocks with amphibole (usually hornblende) as their major mineral. They are usually poorly foliated and form at intermediate to high grades of metamorphism of basaltic or gabbroic protoliths. Hornfels - These are very fine grained rocks that usually form as a result of magma intruding into fined grained igneous rocks or shales. The magma causes a type of metamorphism called contact metamorphism (to be discussed later).

Quartzite - A rock made up almost entirely of quartz. They are formed by metamorphism of quartz arenites (sandstones). Since quartz is stable over a large range of temperatures and pressures, no new minerals are formed during metamorphism, and the only metamorphic effect that occurs is recrystallization of the quartz resulting in interlocking crystals that make up a very hard rock.

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Marble - A limestone or dolostone made up only of calcite or dolomite will metamorphose to a marble which is made mostly recrystallized calcite or dolomite. The Recrystallization usually obliterates all fossils. Marbles have a variety of colors and are often complexly banded. They are commonly used as a decorative stone.

Protolith Composition

Although textures and structures of the protolith are usually destroyed by metamorphism, we can still get an idea about the original rock from the minerals present in the metamorphic rock.

Minerals that form, do so because the chemical elements necessary to form them are present in the protolith.

General terms used to describe the chemical composition of both the protolith and the resulting metamorphic rock are:

Pelitic Alumina rich rocks, usually shales or mudstones. These start out originally with clay minerals and as a result of metamorphism, Alumina rich minerals like micas, chlorite, garnet, kyanite, sillimanite and andalusite form. Because of the abundance of sheet silicates, pelitic rocks commonly form slates, phyllites, schists, and gneisses during metamorphism.

Mafic - These are Mg and Fe rich rocks with low amounts of Si. Minerals like biotite, hornblende and plagioclase form during metamorphism and commonly produce amphibolites.

Calcareous - These are calcium-rich rocks usually derived from limestones or dolostones, and thus contain an abundance of Calcite. Marbles are the type of metamorphic rock that results.

Quartzo-Feldspathic - Rocks that contain an abundance of quartz and feldspar fall into this category. Protoliths are usually granites, rhyolites, or arkose sandstones and metamorphism results in gneisses containing an abundance of quartz, feldspar, and biotite.