Dynamic quartz recrystallization

Last updated
Stages of Recrystallization.jpg

Quartz is the most abundant single mineral in the earth's crust (behind the feldspar group), [1] and as such is present in a very large proportion of rocks both as primary crystals and as detrital grains in sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. Dynamic recrystallization is a process of crystal regrowth under conditions of stress and elevated temperature, commonly applied in the fields of metallurgy and materials science. Dynamic quartz recrystallization happens in a relatively predictable way with relation to temperature, and given its abundance quartz recrystallization can be used to easily determine relative temperature profiles, for example in orogenic belts or near intrusions.

Quartz mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms in a continuous framework of SiO₄ silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall chemical formula of SiO₂

Quartz is a mineral composed of silicon and oxygen atoms in a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall chemical formula of SiO2. Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in Earth's continental crust, behind feldspar.

Feldspar A group of rock-forming tectosilicate minerals

Feldspars (KAlSi3O8 – NaAlSi3O8 – CaAl2Si2O8) are a group of rock-forming tectosilicate minerals that make up about 41% of the Earth's continental crust by weight.

Crystal solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an ordered pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions

A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituents are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions. In addition, macroscopic single crystals are usually identifiable by their geometrical shape, consisting of flat faces with specific, characteristic orientations. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography. The process of crystal formation via mechanisms of crystal growth is called crystallization or solidification.


Mechanisms of recrystallization

Previous research has outlined several dislocation creep regimes present in experimental conditions. [2] Two main mechanisms for altering grain boundaries have been defined. The first is the process by which quartz softens as temperature increases, providing a means for internal stress reduction by migration of dislocations in the crystal lattice, known as dislocation creep. These dislocations concentrate into walls, forming new grain boundaries. The other process involves differences in stored strain energy between neighboring grains, resulting in migration of existing grain boundaries. The extent to which these occur is a function of strain rate and temperature, those being, respectively, the factors controlling introduction of new dislocations and the ability of dislocations to migrate and form subgrain boundaries which themselves migrate. [3]

Dislocation creep is a deformation mechanism in crystalline materials. Dislocation creep involves the movement of dislocations through the crystal lattice of the material, in contrast to diffusion creep, in which diffusion is the dominant creep mechanism. It causes plastic deformation of the individual crystals, and thus the material itself.

Strain rate is the change in strain (deformation) of a material with respect to time.

Recrystallization regimes

Observable microstructures in quartz can be classified into three semi-distinct groupings that form a continuum of dynamic recrystallization textures. These regimes will be discussed in terms of temperature changes, assuming a constant level of shear.

Microstructure small-scale structure of material

Microstructure is the very small scale structure of a material, defined as the structure of a prepared surface of material as revealed by an optical microscope above 25× magnification. The microstructure of a material can strongly influence physical properties such as strength, toughness, ductility, hardness, corrosion resistance, high/low temperature behaviour or wear resistance. These properties in turn govern the application of these materials in industrial practice. Microstructure at scales smaller than can be viewed with optical microscopes is often called nanostructure, while the structure in which individual atoms are arranged is known as crystal structure. The nanostructure of biological specimens is referred to as ultrastructure. A microstructure’s influence on the mechanical and physical properties of a material is primarily governed by the different defects present or absent of the structure. These defects can take many forms but the primary ones are the pores. Even if those pores play a very important role in the definition of the characteristics of a material, so does its composition. In fact, for many materials, different phases can exist at the same time. These phases have different properties and if managed correctly, can prevent the fracture of the material.

Shear stress Component of stress coplanar with a material cross section

A shear stress, often denoted by τ, is the component of stress coplanar with a material cross section. Shear stress arises from the force vector component parallel to the cross section of the material. Normal stress, on the other hand, arises from the force vector component perpendicular to the material cross section on which it acts.

Bulging recrystallization

(10x) Quartz exhibiting dominant bulging recrystallization. Note bulges along grain boundaries and recrystallized subgrains along boundaries (marked by arrows). Thin section prepared by Alex Webb. Bulging Recrystallized Quartzite.jpg
(10x) Quartz exhibiting dominant bulging recrystallization. Note bulges along grain boundaries and recrystallized subgrains along boundaries (marked by arrows). Thin section prepared by Alex Webb.

The lowest temperature texture (~250-400°C), bulging recrystallization (BLG) is characterized by bulges and small recrystallized grains along grain boundaries and, to some extent, microcracks. The at-large proportion and structure of the original quartz crystals is preserved to the greatest extent, compared with the other profiles. Formed by a combination of the two mechanisms mentioned, limited crystal plasticity (due to low temperature) prevents any further separation of subgrains. It follows, then, that an increase in temperature results in an increase in recrystallized grain size and volume proportion (0-25%) [4] as internal stress becomes more resolved.

Subgrain rotation recrystallization

(5x) Quartz(w/mica) exhibiting dominant subgrain rotation recrystallization. Note similar grain/subgrain sizes and relatively straight grain boundaries. Thin section prepared by Alex Webb. Pabbar SGR.jpg
(5x) Quartz(w/mica) exhibiting dominant subgrain rotation recrystallization. Note similar grain/subgrain sizes and relatively straight grain boundaries. Thin section prepared by Alex Webb.

Following an increase in temperature, the dominant texture changes to one marked by the presence of distinct subgrains. Recognizable in thin section by a more polygonized texture, the increased softening of the quartz allows for more thorough reduction of internal stresses. Recrystallized grains show relatively straight grain boundaries and little to no intragranular deformation feature, such as undulose extinction or deformation lamellae. [4] Volume proportion of recrystallized grains in this regime roughly ranges from 30-90%, forming subgrains not only in interstitial space, but also within larger crystals or ribbon grains. Subgrains and recrystallized grains are roughly equal in size and shape.

Undulose extinction

Undulose extinction or undulatory extinction is a geological term referring to the type of extinction that occurs in certain minerals when examined in thin section under cross polarized light. As the microscope stage is rotated, individual mineral grains appear black when the polarization due to the mineral prevents any light from passing through. If a mineral is deformed plastically by dislocation processes without recovery, strain builds up within the crystal lattice causing it to warp. This means that different parts of a crystal reach extinction at slightly different angles, giving the crystal an irregular, mottled look.

Grain boundary migration recrystallization

(5x) Photomicrograph of fully recrystallized quartz. Note lobate, interfingering boundaries. Bright colored grains are micas. Thin section prepared by Alex Webb. Pabbar GBM Scale Bar.jpg
(5x) Photomicrograph of fully recrystallized quartz. Note lobate, interfingering boundaries. Bright colored grains are micas. Thin section prepared by Alex Webb.

The highest temperature of the three textures, grain boundary migration becomes the dominant mechanism at ~500-550°C. Exhibiting much larger recrystallized grain sizes than the other two regimes, in addition to lobate and highly interfingering boundaries, at these temperatures quartz is completely recrystallized. That is, no evidence for original grains can be found. At these high temperatures, grain boundaries are free to sweep across entire grains, resulting in much less localized boundary formation/change. In this case as well, intragranular deformation features have been erased, but may be present from later-stage overprinting.

Aside from the obvious increase in temperature, there are other trends which arise in this progression of recrystallization.

Recrystallized volume proportion

As mentioned above, with increased temperature there is a marked increase in the proportion of the rock having undergone recrystallization. From 0-30% in bulging recrystallization, up to 90% in subgrain rotation recrystallization and 100% in grain boundary migration, this property may be observed in quartzite, at least well enough to get relative temperature relationships in the field.

Quartzite hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock which was originally pure quartz sandstone

Quartzite is a hard, non-foliated metamorphic rock which was originally pure quartz sandstone. Sandstone is converted into quartzite through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression within orogenic belts. Pure quartzite is usually white to grey, though quartzites often occur in various shades of pink and red due to varying amounts of iron oxide (Fe2O3). Other colors, such as yellow, green, blue and orange, are due to other minerals.

Recrystallized grain size

Progressing from around 15 μm (bulging recrystallization) to about 85 μm (subgrain rotation recrystallization) to up to a few millimeters (grain boundary migration), this exponential increase is not only noticeable, but is part of the basis on which the three recrystallization regimes were demarcated.


Observation of recrystallization in a rock sample can reveal a general temperature, but nothing very precise. This is because the process of recrystallization is strongly affected by the presence of water and the amount of strain present. As such, this information can be applied to determine relative temperatures of different rock much more reliably than it can determine absolute temperatures. Furthermore, this is an analysis that can be done, if only preliminarily, in the field by observing rocks in hand sample.

Related Research Articles


A crystallite is a small or even microscopic crystal which forms, for example, during the cooling of many materials. The orientation of crystallites can be random with no preferred direction, called random texture, or directed, possibly due to growth and processing conditions. Fiber texture is an example of the latter. Crystallites are also referred to as grains. The areas where crystallites meet are known as grain boundaries. Polycrystalline or multicrystalline materials, or polycrystals are solids that are composed of many crystallites of varying size and orientation.

Creep (deformation) Tendency of a solid material to move slowly or deform permanently under mechanical stress

In materials science, creep is the tendency of a solid material to move slowly or deform permanently under the influence of persistent mechanical stresses. It can occur as a result of long-term exposure to high levels of stress that are still below the yield strength of the material. Creep is more severe in materials that are subjected to heat for long periods and generally increases as they near their melting point.

Work hardening strengthening of a metal by plastic deformation

Work hardening, also known as strain hardening, is the strengthening of a metal or polymer by plastic deformation. Work hardening may be desirable, undesirable, or inconsequential, depending on the context.

Grain boundary concept in materials science

A grain boundary is the interface between two grains, or crystallites, in a polycrystalline material. Grain boundaries are 2D defects in the crystal structure, and tend to decrease the electrical and thermal conductivity of the material. Most grain boundaries are preferred sites for the onset of corrosion and for the precipitation of new phases from the solid. They are also important to many of the mechanisms of creep. On the other hand, grain boundaries disrupt the motion of dislocations through a material, so reducing crystallite size is a common way to improve mechanical strength, as described by the Hall–Petch relationship. The study of grain boundaries and their effects on the mechanical, electrical and other properties of materials forms an important topic in materials science.

Dynamic recrystallization (DRX) is a type of recrystallization process, found within the fields of metallurgy and geology. In dynamic recrystallization, as opposed to static recrystallization, the nucleation and growth of new grains occurs during deformation rather than afterwards as part of a separate heat treatment.

Mylonite fine-grained, compact metamorphic rock produced by dynamic recrystallization of the constituent minerals

Mylonite is a fine-grained, compact metamorphic rock produced by dynamic recrystallization of the constituent minerals resulting in a reduction of the grain size of the rock. Mylonites can have many different mineralogical compositions; it is a classification based on the textural appearance of the rock.

Recrystallization (metallurgy) process by which deformed grains are replaced by a new set of defect-free grains that nucleate and grow until the original grains have been entirely consumed

Recrystallization is a process by which deformed grains are replaced by a new set of defect-free grains that nucleate and grow until the original grains have been entirely consumed. Recrystallization is usually accompanied by a reduction in the strength and hardness of a material and a simultaneous increase in the ductility. Thus, the process may be introduced as a deliberate step in metals processing or may be an undesirable byproduct of another processing step. The most important industrial uses are softening of metals previously hardened or rendered brittle by cold work, and control of the grain structure in the final product.

Recovery is a process by which deformed grains can reduce their stored energy by the removal or rearrangement of defects in their crystal structure. These defects, primarily dislocations, are introduced by plastic deformation of the material and act to increase the yield strength of a material. Since recovery reduces the dislocation density the process is normally accompanied by a reduction in a materials strength and a simultaneous increase in the ductility. As a result, recovery may be considered beneficial or detrimental depending on the circumstances. Recovery is related to the similar process of recrystallization and grain growth, each of them being stages of annealing. Recovery competes with recrystallization, as both are driven by the stored energy, but is also thought to be a necessary prerequisite for the nucleation of recrystallized grains. It is so called because there is a recovery of the electrical conductivity due to a reduction in dislocations. This creates defect-free channels, giving electrons an increased mean-free path.

Diffusion creep refers to the deformation of crystalline solids by the diffusion of vacancies through their crystal lattice. Diffusion creep results in plastic deformation rather than brittle failure of the material.

In metallurgy, materials science and structural geology, subgrain rotation recrystallization is recognized as an important mechanism for dynamic recrystallisation. It involves the rotation of initially low-angle sub-grain boundaries until the mismatch between the crystal lattices across the boundary is sufficient for them to be regarded as grain boundaries. This mechanism has been recognized in many minerals and in metals.

A deformation mechanism map is a way of representing the dominant deformation mechanism in a material loaded under a given set of conditions and thereby its likely failure mode. Deformation mechanism maps usually consist of some kind of stress plotted against some kind of temperature axis, typically stress normalized using the shear modulus versus homologous temperature with contours of strain rate. For a given set of operating conditions calculations are undergone and experiments performed to determine the predominant mechanism operative for a given material. Constitutive equations for the type of mechanism have been developed for each deformation mechanism and are used in the construction of the maps. The theoretical shear strength of the material is independent of temperature and located along the top of the map, with the regimes of plastic deformation mechanisms below it. Constant strain rate contours can be constructed on the maps using the constitutive equations of the deformation mechanisms which makes the maps extremely useful.

Coble creep

Coble creep, a form of diffusion creep, is a mechanism for deformation of crystalline solids. Contrasted with other diffusional creep mechanisms, Coble creep is similar to Nabarro–Herring creep in that it is dominant at lower stress levels and higher temperatures than creep mechanisms utilizing dislocation glide. Coble creep occurs through the diffusion of atoms in a material along grain boundaries. This mechanism is observed in polycrystals or along the surface in a single crystal, which produces a net flow of material and a sliding of the grain boundaries.

Cleavage (geology)

Cleavage, in structural geology and petrology, describes a type of planar rock feature that develops as a result of deformation and metamorphism. The degree of deformation and metamorphism along with rock type determines the kind of cleavage feature that develops. Generally these structures are formed in fine grained rocks composed of minerals affected by pressure solution.

In structural geology, metallurgy and materials science, deformation mechanisms refer to the various mechanisms at the grain scale that are responsible for accommodating large plastic strains in rocks, metals and other materials.

Grain boundary strengthening

Grain-boundary strengthening is a method of strengthening materials by changing their average crystallite (grain) size. It is based on the observation that grain boundaries are insurmountable borders for dislocations and that the number of dislocations within a grain have an effect on how stress builds up in the adjacent grain, which will eventually activate dislocation sources and thus enabling deformation in the neighbouring grain, too. So, by changing grain size one can influence the number of dislocations piled up at the grain boundary and yield strength. For example, heat treatment after plastic deformation and changing the rate of solidification are ways to alter grain size.

Strain partitioning is commonly referred to as a deformation process in which the total strain experienced on a rock, area, or region, is heterogeneously distributed in terms of the strain intensity and strain type. This process is observed on a range of scales spanning from the grain – crystal scale to the plate – lithospheric scale, and occurs in both the brittle and plastic deformation regimes. The manner and intensity by which strain is distributed are controlled by a number of factors listed below.

Paleostress inversion refers to the determination of paleostress history from evidence found in rocks, based on the principle that past tectonic stress should have left traces in the rocks. Such relationships have been discovered from field studies for years: qualitative and quantitative analyses of deformation structures are useful for understanding the distribution and transformation of paleostress fields controlled by sequential tectonic events. Deformation ranges from microscopic to regional scale, and from brittle to ductile behaviour, depending on the rheology of the rock, orientation and magnitude of the stress etc. Therefore, detailed observations in outcrops, as well as in thin sections, are important in reconstructing the paleostress trajectories.

Salt deformation

Salt deformation is the change of shape of natural salt bodies in response to forces and mechanisms that controls salt flow. Such deformation can generate large salt structures such as underground salt layers, salt diapirs or salt sheets at the surface. Strictly speaking, salt structures are formed by rock salt that is composed of pure halite (NaCl) crystal. However, most halite in nature appears in impure form, therefore rock salt usually refers to all rocks that composed mainly of halite, sometimes also as a mixture with other evaporites such as gypsum and anhydrite. Earth's salt deformation generally involves such mixed materials.


  1. Klein, Cornelis; Dutrow, Barbara (2008). Manual of Mineral Sciences. Wiley. pp. &#91, page&nbsp, needed &#93, . ISBN   978-0-471-72157-4.
  2. Hirth, Greg; Tullis, Jan (1992). "Dislocation creep regimes in quartz aggregates" (PDF). Journal of Structural Geology. 14 (2): 145–160. Bibcode:1992JSG....14..145H. doi:10.1016/0191-8141(92)90053-Y. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-25.
  3. Drury, Martyn R.; Urai, Janos L. (1990). "Deformation-related recrystallization processes". Tectonophysics. 172 (3–4): 235–253. Bibcode:1990Tectp.172..235D. doi:10.1016/0040-1951(90)90033-5.
  4. 1 2 Stipp, Michael; Holger Stünitz; Renée Heilbronner; Stefan M. Schmid (2002). "The eastern Tonale fault zone: a 'natural laboratory' for crystal plastic deformation of quartz over a temperature range of 250 to 700°C" (PDF). Journal of Structural Geology. 24 (12): 1861–1884. Bibcode:2002JSG....24.1861S. doi:10.1016/S0191-8141(02)00035-4.