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SMECTITE

(0.5Ca,Na)0.7(Al,Mg,Fe)4((Si,Al)8O20)OH4•nH2O

Environment: Epithermal
Alteration: Argillic

Characteristics:

Smectite, which refers to any mineral in the smectite group, typically occurs in altered
volcanic and sedimentary rocks as a replacement mineral in association with low-
temperature zeolites, or less commonly, as open-space fill.
Volcanic glass is especially susceptible to replacement by smectite.

Hand Specimen: Replacement of rock-forming minerals and volcanic glass by


smectite con produce a bleached appearance, with tan to light-medium green colours;
specimens are easily scratched, and some spall in water.

Thin Section: Smectite is very fine grained (<0.01 mm) and normally colourless,
except that iron-bearing types may be brown or dull green. Smectite is usually non-
pleochroic and weakly birefringent.

Related Minerals

Associated: “chalcedony”, chlorite, cristobalite, illite-smectite


Accessory: calcite, clinoptilolite, mordenite, pyrite

Discussion:

Smectite is a general term for a group of clay minerals of which montmorillonite is the
most common. These clays form in the presence of both neutral and acid cool thermal
fluids, and are stable up to about 140°C. Consequently, smectite commonly occurs
above or adjacent to epithermal mineralization. Interlayered illite/smectite or illite
prevails at higher temperatures. Smectite can also occur as open-space fill, where its
accuracy as a geothermometer is less certain. X-ray diffraction analysis is necessary to
confirm its presence and character.

Figures:

42.1. HS. Moderately altered rhyolite ignimbrite in which primary feldspars are partly
dissolved, and glass has converted to smectite (giving it the green colour) and
mordenite. White to light green clasts are pumice; the dark gray clasts are lithic
fragments. Sample is from the margin of the Ohakuri epithermal deposit, New Zealand.
FOV = 5 cm

42.2. TS (PPL). Moderately altered rhyolite ignimbrite in which primary feldspars are
partly dissolved and glass has converted to smectite (medium-dark brown) and
mordenite (colourless needles). Sample is from the margin of the Ohakuri epithermal
deposited, New Zealand. FOV = 2 mm.

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