March 12, 2012

Monday Geology Picture: Listwanite Hills in the Sultanate of Oman

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

Listwanite hills in the Sultanate of Oman, January 2012. The reddish parts of the moutnain are listwanites while the grayish parts are less-altered peridotites.

Today I am going to share some pictures of listwanite (also sometimes spelled listvenite, listvanite, or listwaenite), an unusual  rock type that I bet even some of the well-educated geologists who read this blog have never seen or even read about. I don’t even think there’s a wikipedia entry about listwanite. Perhaps I’ll write one after my thesis defense next month.

Listwanite forms when ultramafic rocks (most commonly mantle peridotites) are completely carbonated. The pyroxene and olivine minerals found in peridotite commonly alter to form carbonate and serpentine minerals. However, peridotites are usually not completely carbonated. Rather, they typically contain carbonate veins (primarily magnesite; also calcite, dolomite, and other carbonates). Complete carbonation of peridotite means that every single atom of magnesium and calcium as well as some of the iron atoms has combined with CO2 to form  secondary carbonate minerals such a magnesite and calcite. The silica atoms in listwanite are found in quartz. Thus, liswanites consist of quartz (a rusty red color) and  carbonate and also sometimes talc and Cr-muscovite (a mineral known as mariposite/fuchsite).  Geologists are still studying how listwanites form, but they likely form through the interaction of CO2-rich fluids with peridotites at higher than ambient temperatures up to ~200 degrees Celsius. Structural controls (faults and fractures) permit the percolation of the CO2-rich fluids through peridotite, so the formation of listwanites is generally structurally controlled.

Listwanites are important rocks to study for a number of reasons. First of all, listwanites contain large amounts of CO2 which originated from fluids and which is now stored in solid mineral form.  Recently, geologists and other scientists have been investigating the potential of storing CO2 in solid minerals (which are more stable than CO2 stored as a liquid or gas) through carbonation of mafic and ultramafic rocks (see, for example, this Nature Geoscience Progress Article by Matter and Kelemen, 2009). Mafic and ultramafic rocks uptake significant CO2 through their natural alteration processes (that’s what I study for my PhD, so expect more on this in the next year or so as I submit my papers for publication). However, the natural carbonation rates of these rocks are too slow to significantly offset anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Therefore, scientists are currently investigating if it is possible to geoengineer CO2 uptake in mafic and ultramafic rocks so that this CO2 uptake happens more quickly. This could be done, perhaps, by fracturing and heating and injection of CO2-rich fluids. This is already being tested in mafic basalts through the CarbFix Project in Iceland.

However, scientists and engineers still have plenty of work to do in order to figure out the right conditions and protocols for CO2 sequestration in mafic and ultramafic rocks. In order to learn about what conditions lead to complete carbonation of ultramafic rocks, scientists such as Peter Kelemen and Gregory Dipple (and their many grad students and collaborators) are working to learn more about listwanites to see if mother nature can provide some clues.

In addition to the recent interest in listwanites for carbon sequestration efforts, listwanites are also important because they are often associated with economic mineral deposits, particularly gold deposits.

So, now that I’ve explained what listwanites are and why they are important, here are some pictures of listwanites which I observed during my trip to Oman back in January. Listwanites are pretty neat rocks, aren’t they?

A closer view of a listwanite outcrop, with a hammer for scale. Sultanate of Oman, January 2012.

Another view of listwanite up close. Sultanate of Oman, January 2012.

More listwanite. Note the offsets in the carbonate veins. Sultanate of Oman, January 2012.

Another piece of listwanite with offsets in carbonate veins. This sample is gray in color and thus perhaps not fully a listwanite. Sultanate of Oman, January 2012.