Sunday, September 2, 2012


 One of the more interesting groups of minerals are the pseudomorphs, or false form minerals--essentially a new mineral recrystallizes and replaces the original mineral.  During this chemical change the replacing mineral takes on the crystal form of the original mineral and that crystal form commonly is atypical for that particular replacing mineral!  That is, the shape of the original mineral is maintained by the replacing mineral. 
For example, both azurite and malachite are quite recognizable copper minerals with azurite being blue in color while malachite is a bright green.  Both minerals are copper carbonates with azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2)) crystallizing usually as prismatic crystals while malachite (Cu2CO3(OH)2) crystals are often slender prisms.  Azurite is unstable and with weathering some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) chemically changes into water and the +++copper cation becomes ++copper cation.  This seems a fairly complex chemical change for such beautiful minerals!
Near Lake George in the pegmatites of the Pikes Peak Batholith, hematite is a pseudomorph after siderite.  Hematite is an iron oxide (Fe2O3) and often a weathering product, in this case of siderite, an iron carbonate (FeCO3) with a rhombohedral form.
At many rock and mineral shows vendors will display glauberite pseudomorphs that were collected from near Camp Verde, Arizona, north of Phoenix.  At this locality exposures of the Verde Formation are well-exposed in an abandoned salt mine.  The Verde was deposited in a large lake that occupied a tectonic basin in central Arizona during the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, approximately two to eight million years ago (Ayres, 2009).  Near the end of the lake cycle the water became quite saline and evaporitic minerals such as halite (sodium chloride-- NaCl) and glauberite (sodium calcium sulfate-- Na2Ca(SO4)2 were deposited.
 I am uncertain about the chemistry but sometime in the last two million years carbonates, calcite (CaCO3) and/or aragonite (CaCO3), or a sulfate, gypsum (CaSO4-2(H2O)), replaced the unstable glauberite as a pseudomorph.  I presume that groundwater percolating through the sediments and rocks provided the appropriate replacing elements.
  I also recognize there is a name similarity between glauberite and Glauber’s salt, the latter being a sodium sulfate decahydrate (Na2SO4-10H2O), for which the mineral was named.  In past years some glauberite was mined to produce Glauber’s salt, a substance used in the chemical industry.  Glauberite itself is mostly colorless to cream to gray in color, rather soft at 2.5 on the Moh’s Scale, and has a white streak.  Glauberite is impressive due to the unmistakable, large, well-formed, tabular- to wedge-shaped crystals that define the mineral.  This characteristic shape seems enough to distinguish the mineral from others.  However, as noted above, there is a problem--glauberite is unstable and often is replaced by other minerals producing pseudomorphs and these “false form minerals” seem more common in the record than true glauberite crystals! 
In my collecting at the salt mine I was able to secure: 1) a beautiful large specimen of several crystals of gypsum that were pseudomorphs of glauberite, and a “typical” crystal of calcite pseudomorph after glauberite.  I also collected a transparent and non-crystal specimen that an Arizona geologist identified as thenardite (a mineral that was unfamiliar to me).  Thenardite is a sodium sulfate, Na2SO4, that also precipitates in evaporitic lakes and playas.  Interesting, but perhaps confusing to non-geochemists, are the facts that thenardite: 1) is the salt of sulfuric acid; and 2) and becomes Glauber’s salt with the addition of water!

A couple of other interesting comments about glauberite might be in order.  In New South Wales, Australia, opal (SiO2-nH2O) is found as a pseudomorph after glauberite.  At Watchung, New Jersey, both prehnite (a calcium, aluminum phyllosilicate, Ca2Al(AlSi3O10)(OH)2)) and quartz (SiO2) occur as pseudomorphs after glauberite in basalt cavities.
I am somewhat out of my realm of comfort here since I am not a mineralogist or geochemist and do not fully understand some of the processes taking place during the formation of pseudomorphs.  However, the glauberite pseudomorphs are quite interesting and make excellent display specimens.  For additional information on the Camp Verde specimens please see Ayres (2009) or Thompson (1983).

Ayres, S., 2009, The Verde Formation: A Story That Holds Water: Verde Independent (newspaper), November 18, 2009. 

Thompson J. R., 1983, Camp Verde Evaporates:  Mineralogical Record, Vol. 14 No. 2, p. 85-90.