Ultrapotassic igneous rocks

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Ultrapotassic igneous rocks are a class of rare, volumetrically minor and generally ultramafic or mafic silica-depleted igneous rocks.

Mafic Silicate mineral or igneous rock that is rich in magnesium and iron

Mafic is an adjective describing a silicate mineral or igneous rock that is rich in magnesium and iron, and is thus a portmanteau of magnesium and ferric. Most mafic minerals are dark in color, and common rock-forming mafic minerals include olivine, pyroxene, amphibole, and biotite. Common mafic rocks include basalt, diabase and gabbro. Mafic rocks often also contain calcium-rich varieties of plagioclase feldspar.


Ultrapotassic rocks are defined by molar K 2 O/Na 2O >3 in much of the scientific literature. In other papers written as recently as 2005, they are defined as rocks with weight percents K2O/Na2O >2. Hence, caution is indicated in interpreting use of the term "ultrapotassic", and the nomenclature of these rocks continues to be debated.

Potassium Chemical element with atomic number 19

Potassium is a chemical element with symbol K and atomic number 19. It was first isolated from potash, the ashes of plants, from which its name derives. In the periodic table, potassium is one of the alkali metals. All of the alkali metals have a single valence electron in the outer electron shell, which is easily removed to create an ion with a positive charge – a cation, which combines with anions to form salts. Potassium in nature occurs only in ionic salts. Elemental potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal that oxidizes rapidly in air and reacts vigorously with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite hydrogen emitted in the reaction, and burning with a lilac-colored flame. It is found dissolved in sea water, and is part of many minerals.

Oxygen Chemical element with atomic number 8

Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member of the chalcogen group on the periodic table, a highly reactive nonmetal, and an oxidizing agent that readily forms oxides with most elements as well as with other compounds. By mass, oxygen is the third-most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen and helium. At standard temperature and pressure, two atoms of the element bind to form dioxygen, a colorless and odorless diatomic gas with the formula O
. Diatomic oxygen gas constitutes 20.8% of the Earth's atmosphere. As compounds including oxides, the element makes up almost half of the Earth's crust.

Sodium Chemical element with atomic number 11

Sodium is a chemical element with symbol Na (from Latin natrium) and atomic number 11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal. Sodium is an alkali metal, being in group 1 of the periodic table, because it has a single electron in its outer shell, which it readily donates, creating a positively charged ion—the Na+ cation. Its only stable isotope is 23Na. The free metal does not occur in nature, and must be prepared from compounds. Sodium is the sixth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and exists in numerous minerals such as feldspars, sodalite, and rock salt (NaCl). Many salts of sodium are highly water-soluble: sodium ions have been leached by the action of water from the Earth's minerals over eons, and thus sodium and chlorine are the most common dissolved elements by weight in the oceans.

Genesis of these ultrapotassic rocks has been much discussed. The magmas probably are produced by a variety of mechanisms and from a variety of sources. The magma production may be favored by the following: [1]

Magma Mixture of molten or semi-molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth

Magma is the molten or semi-molten natural material from which all igneous rocks are formed. Magma is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and evidence of magmatism has also been discovered on other terrestrial planets and some natural satellites. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and gas bubbles. Magma is produced by melting of the mantle and/or the crust at various tectonic settings, including subduction zones, continental rift zones, mid-ocean ridges and hotspots. Mantle and crustal melts migrate upwards through the crust where they are thought to be stored in magma chambers or trans-crustal crystal-rich mush zones. During their storage in the crust, magma compositions may be modified by fractional crystallization, contamination with crustal melts, magma mixing, and degassing. Following their ascent through the crust, magmas may feed a volcano or solidify underground to form an intrusion. While the study of magma has historically relied on observing magma in the form of lava flows, magma has been encountered in situ three times during geothermal drilling projects—twice in Iceland, and once in Hawaii.

Barium Chemical element with atomic number 56

Barium is a chemical element with symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in group 2 and is a soft, silvery alkaline earth metal. Because of its high chemical reactivity, barium is never found in nature as a free element. Its hydroxide, known in pre-modern times as baryta, does not occur as a mineral, but can be prepared by heating barium carbonate.

Rubidium Chemical element with atomic number 37

Rubidium is a chemical element with symbol Rb and atomic number 37. Rubidium is a soft, silvery-white metallic element of the alkali metal group, with a standard atomic weight of 85.4678. Elemental rubidium is highly reactive, with properties similar to those of other alkali metals, including rapid oxidation in air. On Earth, natural rubidium comprises two isotopes: 72% is the stable isotope, 85Rb; 28% is the slightly radioactive 87Rb, with a half-life of 49 billion years—more than three times longer than the estimated age of the universe.

Peridotite A coarse-grained ultramafic igneous rock

Peridotite is a dense, coarse-grained igneous rock consisting mostly of the minerals olivine and pyroxene. Peridotite is ultramafic, as the rock contains less than 45% silica (SiO4−
). It is high in magnesium (Mg2+), reflecting the high proportions of magnesium-rich olivine, with appreciable iron. Peridotite is derived from the Earth's mantle, either as solid blocks and fragments, or as crystals accumulated from magmas that formed in the mantle. The compositions of peridotites from these layered igneous complexes vary widely, reflecting the relative proportions of pyroxenes, chromite, plagioclase, and amphibole.

Mantle sources of ultrapotassic magmas may contain subducted sediments, or the sources may have been enriched in potassium by melts or fluids partly derived from subducted sediments. Phlogopite and/or potassic amphibole probably are typical in the sources from which many such magmas have been derived. Ultrapotassic granites are uncommon and may be produced by melting of the continental crust above upwelling mafic magma, such as at rift zones.

Phlogopite true mica, phyllosilicate mineral

Phlogopite is a yellow, greenish, or reddish-brown member of the mica family of phyllosilicates. It is also known as magnesium mica.

Amphibole double chain inosilicates

Amphibole is an important group of inosilicate minerals, forming prism or needlelike crystals, composed of double chain SiO
tetrahedra, linked at the vertices and generally containing ions of iron and/or magnesium in their structures. Amphiboles can be green, black, colorless, white, yellow, blue, or brown. The International Mineralogical Association currently classifies amphiboles as a mineral supergroup, within which are two groups and several subgroups.

Types of ultrapotassic rocks

Lamprophyre igneous rock

Lamprophyres are uncommon, small volume ultrapotassic igneous rocks primarily occurring as dikes, lopoliths, laccoliths, stocks and small intrusions. They are alkaline silica-undersaturated mafic or ultramafic rocks with high magnesium oxide, >3% potassium oxide, high sodium oxide and high nickel and chromium.

Kimberlite An igneous rock which sometimes contains diamonds

Kimberlite is an igneous rock, which sometimes contains diamonds. It is named after the town of Kimberley in South Africa, where the discovery of an 83.5-carat (16.70 g) diamond called the Star of South Africa in 1869 spawned a diamond rush and the digging of the open-pit mine called the Big Hole. Previously, the term kimberlite has been applied to olivine lamproites as Kimberlite II, however this has been in error.

Lamproite Ultrapotassic mantle-derived volcanic or subvolcanic rock

Lamproite is an ultrapotassic mantle-derived volcanic or subvolcanic rock. It has low CaO, Al2O3, Na2O, high K2O/Al2O3, a relatively high MgO content and extreme enrichment in incompatible elements.

Economic importance

The economic importance of ultrapotassic rocks is wide and varied. Kimberlites, lamproites and perhaps even lamprophyres are known to contain diamond. These rocks are all produced at depths in excess of 120 km and thus can bring diamond to the surface as xenocrysts. Ultrapotassic granites are a known host for much granite-hosted gold mineralisation. Significant porphyry-style mineralisation is won from highly potassic to ultrapotassic granites. Ultrapotassic A-type intracontinental granites may be associated with fluorite and columbitetantalite mineralization.

Related Research Articles

Andesite An intermediate volcanic rock

Andesite ( or ) is an extrusive igneous, volcanic rock, of intermediate composition, with aphanitic to porphyritic texture. In a general sense, it is the intermediate type between basalt and rhyolite, and ranges from 57 to 63% silicon dioxide (SiO2) as illustrated in TAS diagrams. The mineral assemblage is typically dominated by plagioclase plus pyroxene or hornblende. Magnetite, zircon, apatite, ilmenite, biotite, and garnet are common accessory minerals. Alkali feldspar may be present in minor amounts. The quartz-feldspar abundances in andesite and other volcanic rocks are illustrated in QAPF diagrams.

Eclogite A dense, mafic metamorphic rock

Eclogite is a mafic metamorphic rock. Eclogite forms at pressures greater than those typical of the crust of the Earth. An unusually dense rock, eclogite can play an important role in driving convection within the solid Earth.

Metasomatism The chemical alteration of a rock by hydrothermal and other fluids

Metasomatism is the chemical alteration of a rock by hydrothermal and other fluids. It is the replacement of one rock by another of different mineralogical and chemical composition. The minerals which compose the rocks are dissolved and new mineral formations are deposited in their place. Dissolution and deposition occur simultaneously and the rock remains solid.

Ultramafic rock igneous rock type

Ultramafic rocks are igneous and meta-igneous rocks with a very low silica content, generally >18% MgO, high FeO, low potassium, and are composed of usually greater than 90% mafic minerals. The Earth's mantle is composed of ultramafic rocks. Ultrabasic is a more inclusive term that includes igneous rocks with low silica content that may not be extremely enriched in Fe and Mg, such as carbonatites and ultrapotassic igneous rocks.

Essexite, also called nepheline monzogabbro, is a dark gray or black holocrystalline plutonic igneous rock. Its name is derived from the type locality in Essex County, Massachusetts, in the United States.

Komatiite An ultramafic mantle-derived volcanic rock

Komatiite is a type of ultramafic mantle-derived volcanic rock. Komatiites have low silicon, potassium and aluminium, and high to extremely high magnesium content. Komatiite was named for its type locality along the Komati River in South Africa.

Rock cycle Transitions through geologic time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous

The rock cycle is a basic concept in geology that describes the transitions through geologic time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. As the adjacent diagram illustrates, each of the types of rocks is altered or destroyed when it is forced out of its equilibrium conditions. An igneous rock such as basalt may break down and dissolve when exposed to the atmosphere, or melt as it is subducted under a continent. Due to the driving forces of the rock cycle, plate tectonics and the water cycle, rocks do not remain in equilibrium and are forced to change as they encounter new environments. The rock cycle is an illustration that explains how the three rock types are related to each other, and how processes change from one type to another over time. This cyclical aspect makes rock change a geologic cycle and, on planets containing life, a biogeochemical cycle.


Anatexis in geology, refers to the differential, or partial, melting of rocks, especially in the forming of metamorphic rocks such as migmatites.

Boninite is a mafic extrusive rock high in both magnesium and silica, thought to be usually formed in fore-arc environments, typically during the early stages of subduction. The rock is named for its occurrence in the Izu-Bonin arc south of Japan. It is characterized by extreme depletion in incompatible trace elements that are not fluid mobile but variable enrichment in the fluid mobile elements. They are found almost exclusively in the fore-arc of primitive island arcs and in ophiolite complexes thought to represent former fore-arc settings or at least formed above a subduction zone.

Harzburgite An ultramafic and ultrabasic mantle rock. Found in ophiolites.

Harzburgite, an ultramafic, igneous rock, is a variety of peridotite consisting mostly of the two minerals, olivine and low-calcium (Ca) pyroxene (enstatite); it is named for occurrences in the Harz Mountains of Germany. It commonly contains a few percent chromium-rich spinel as an accessory mineral. Garnet-bearing harzburgite is much less common, found most commonly as xenoliths in kimberlite.


Monzogranites are biotite granite rocks that are considered to be the final fractionation product of magma. Monzogranites are characteristically felsic (SiO2 > 73%, and FeO + MgO + TiO2 < 2.4), weakly peraluminous (Al2O3/ (CaO + Na2O + K2O) = 0.98–1.11), and contain ilmenite, sphene, apatite and zircon as accessory minerals. Although the compositional range of the monzogranites is small, it defines a differentiation trend that is essentially controlled by biotite and plagioclase fractionation. (Fagiono, 2002). Monzogranites can be divided into two groups (magnesio-potassic monzogranite and ferro-potassic monzogranite) and are further categorized into rock types based on their macroscopic characteristics, melt characteristics, specific features, available isotopic data, and the locality in which they are found.

Igneous rock Rock formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava

Igneous rock, or magmatic rock, is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. The magma can be derived from partial melts of existing rocks in either a planet's mantle or crust. Typically, the melting is caused by one or more of three processes: an increase in temperature, a decrease in pressure, or a change in composition. Solidification into rock occurs either below the surface as intrusive rocks or on the surface as extrusive rocks. Igneous rock may form with crystallization to form granular, crystalline rocks, or without crystallization to form natural glasses. Igneous rocks occur in a wide range of geological settings: shields, platforms, orogens, basins, large igneous provinces, extended crust and oceanic crust.


Tonalite-trondhjemite-granodiorite rocks or TTG rocks are intrusive rocks with typical granitic composition but containing only a small portion of potassium feldspar. Tonalite, trondhjemite, and granodiorite often occur together in geological records, indicating similar petrogenetic processes. Post Archean TTG rocks are present in arc-related batholiths, as well as in ophiolites, while Archean TTG rocks are major components of Archean cratons.


    • Stephen Foley and Angelo Peccerillo, Potassic and ultrapotassic magmas and their origin, Lithos, v. 28, p. 181-185 (1992)