5.4 Silicate Minerals

Silicon and also oxygen link covalently to develop a silicate tetrahedron (SiO44-), i beg your pardon is a four-sided pyramid form with oxygen at every corner and silicon in the center (Figure 5.21). This structure is the building block of countless important mineral in the crust and mantle. Silicon has actually a fee of +4, and oxygen has a charge of -2, for this reason the complete charge that the silicate anion is -4.

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Figure 5.21 The silica tetrahedron is the structure block of all silicate minerals. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY-SA 4.0. Modified ~ Helgi (2013) CC BY-SA 3.0 see source

In silicate minerals, these tetrahedra room arranged and also linked with each other in a range of ways, from single units come chains, rings, and more complex frameworks. In the remainder of this section we will talk about the frameworks of the most typical silicate mineral in Earth’s crust and also mantle.

Exercise: make a Tetrahedron

Download this PDF paper with the tetrahedron sample below. Cut about the outside of the form (solid lines and dotted lines), and then fold along the solid present to kind a tetrahedron.

If you have actually glue or tape, secure the tabs to the tetrahedron to hold it together. If friend don’t have actually glue or tape, do a part along the thin grey line and insert the sharp tab right into the slit.

If you’re feeling ambitious, make several tetrahedra and also and use toothpicks through the corners to do the configurations discussed below.

Figure 5.22 Pattern for a tetrahedron. Source: Steven Earle (2015) CC by 4.0 watch source
Isolated Tetrahedra

The most basic silicate structure, that of the mineral olivine (Figure 5.23), is composed of isolated tetrahedra bonded to steel and/or magnesium ion (Figure 5.23 left). In olivine, the –4 fee of every silica tetrahedron is well balanced by two iron or magnesium cations, each through a charge of +2. Olivine have the right to be pure Mg2SiO4 or Fe2SiO4, or a mix of the two, created as (Mg,Fe)2SiO4. Magnesium and also iron have the right to substitute for each other since they both have a charge of +2, and also they are similar in size. Magnesium cations have actually a radius the 0.73 Å, and iron cations have a radius the 0.62 Å <1>.

Figure 5.23 Olivine is a silicate mineral made of isolated silica tetrahedra external inspection to Fe and Mg ions (left). Olivine crystals (centre) can frequently be discovered in the volcano igneous rock referred to as basalt (right). Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY-SA 4.0. Left- modified after ~ Steven Earle (2015) CC by 4.0 watch source. Click the image for photo sources.

Although the iron and magnesium ions are similar in size, permitting them come substitute for each other in some silicate minerals, the typical ions in silicate minerals have actually a wide selection of size (Figure 5.24). Ionic radii are an important to the ingredient of silicate minerals, due to the fact that the framework of the silicate mineral will identify the size of spaces available.

Figure 5.24 The ionic radii in angstroms of few of the usual ions in silicate minerals. Radii displayed to scale. An alert that iron appears twice with two different radii. This is since iron deserve to exist as a +2 ion (if that loses two electrons once it i do not care an ion) or a +3 ion (if it loses three). Fe2+ is known as ferrous iron. Fe3+ is recognized as ferric iron. Source: Karla Panchuk (2017) CC by 4.0. Modified after ~ Steven Earle (2015) CC by 4.0 check out sourceChain Silicates

Pyroxene (Figure 5.25 bottom left) is an example of a single-chain silicate. The structure of chain silicates is shown in figure 5.25 (top). In pyroxene, silica tetrahedra type a chain due to the fact that one oxygen from each tetrahedron is common with the surrounding tetrahedron. This method there space fewer oxygens in the structure. This have the right to be expressed as an oxygen-to-silicon ratio (O:Si). The O:Si is reduced than in olivine (3:1 rather of 4:1), and also the net charge per silicon atom is much less (–2 rather of –4), due to the fact that fewer cations are necessary to balance that charge.

Figure 5.25 Chain silicate minerals. Top: arrangement of silica tetrahedra in single and double chains. Bottom left: Pyroxene crystals (dark crystals) that the variety aegirine (acmite). Bottom right: Amphibole crystal (dark) of the variety hornblende. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Peak left- modified after ~ Steven Earle (2015) CC by 4.0. Peak right- modified after Klein & Hurlbut (1993). Image by R. Weller/ Cochise College. Click the image for sources.

Pyroxene compositions have the silica tetrahedra stood for as SiO3 (e.g., MgSiO3, FeSiO3, and CaSiO3<2>.) In other words, pyroxene has one cation for each silica tetrahedron (e.g., MgSiO3) when olivine has actually two (e.g., Mg2SiO4). The framework of pyroxene is more “permissive” than that that olivine, definition cations v a more comprehensive range of ionic radii have the right to fit into it. It is why pyroxenes deserve to have calcium cations (radius 1.00 Å) substitute because that iron (0.63 Å) and magnesium (0.72 Å) .

In amphibole (Figure 5.25 bottom right), the silica tetrahedra are connected in a dual chain that has an oxygen-to-silicon ratio reduced than that of pyroxene, and also hence still fewer cations are important to balance the charge. Amphibole is even an ext permissive than pyroxene and its compositions can be really complex, as shown by the formula for the hornblende group of amphibole mineral in figure 5.25 (bottom right).
Figure 5.26 shows single chain and double chain structures. Counting the number of tetrahedra matches the variety of oxygen ion (yellow spheres) for each. Each tetrahedron has one silicon atom.
Confirm for yourself the the ratio of silicon come oxygen in the single chain is 1:3.What is the O:Si for the dual chain?
Figure 5.26 solitary and twin chains the tetrahedra. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC by 4.0, modified after Steven Earle (2015) CC by 4.0 solitary chain/ double chain

Sheet Silicates

In mica frameworks the silica tetrahedra room arranged in continuous sheets (Figure 5.27), where each tetrahedron shares three oxygen anions with nearby tetrahedra. Because even an ext oxygens are common between surrounding tetrahedra, under charge-balancing cations are needed for paper silicate minerals. Bonding between sheets is reasonably weak, and this accounts because that the propensity of mica minerals to separation apart in sheets (Figure 5.27 bottom right). Two usual micas in silicate rocks space biotite (Figure 5.27 bottom left), which includes iron and/or magnesium, making the a dark mineral; and muscovite (Figure 5.27 right), which consists of aluminum and also potassium, and also is irradiate in colour. Every one of the sheet silicate minerals have water in your structure, in the type of the hydroxyl (OH-) anion.

Figure 5.27 Micas room sheet silicates and also split easily into thin layers along planes parallel come the sheets. Biotite mica (lower left) is has Fe and also Mg cations. Muscovite mica (lower right) has actually Al and also K instead. The muscovite mica shows just how thin great can separation away in a paper silicate. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Peak left- modified after Steven Earle (2015) CC through 4.0. Top right- modified after Klein & Hurlbut (1993). Photos by R. Weller/ Cochise College. Click the image for sources.

Some paper silicates commonly occur in clay-sized fragments (i.e., much less than 0.004 mm). These include the clay minerals kaolinite, illite, and also smectite, which are important materials of rocks and also especially of soils.

Framework Silicates

In frame silicates, tetrahedra are associated to each other in three-dimensional structures rather than in two-dimensional chains and sheets.


Feldspars are a team of an extremely abundant framework silicates in Earth’s crust. They encompass alumina tetrahedra as well as silicate tetrahedra. In alumina tetrahedra, there is an aluminum cation at the centre rather of a silicon cation.

Feldspars space classified utilizing a ternary (3-fold) device with 3 end-members (“pure” feldspars). This system is shown with a triangle diagram that has actually each end-member in ~ one corner (Figure 5.28). The distance along a side of the diagram represents the family member abundance of the ingredient of every end-member.

Figure 5.28 Ternary diagram reflecting the feldspar team of structure silicate minerals. Alkali feldspars space those with compositions ranging between albite (with a Na cation) and orthoclase and its polymorphs (with a K cation. Plagioclase feldspars room those v compositions ranging in between albite and also anorthite (with a Ca cation). Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY-SA 4.0. Ternary chart modified after ~ Klein & Hurlbut (1993). Click the photo for photograph sources and a ternary diagram without mineral images.

One end-member is potassium feldspar (also referred to as K-feldspar), which has actually the composition KAlSi3O8. Relying on the temperature and also rate of cooling, K-feldspar can occur as among three polymorphs: orthoclase, sanidine, or microcline. One more end member is albite, which has actually sodium instead of potassium (formula NaAlSi3O8). As is the instance for iron and also magnesium in olivine, over there is a constant range that compositions (referred to as a solid-solution series) between albite and orthoclase. Feldspars in this collection are described as alkali feldspars. Potassium cations room much larger than salt cations (1.37 Å matches 0.99 Å, respectively), for this reason high temperatures are required to kind alkali feldspars with intermediate compositions.

The third end-member is anorthite and it has actually calcium rather of potassium or sodium (formula CaAl2Si3O8). Feldspars in the solid-solution series between albite and anorthite are called plagioclase feldspars. Calcium and also sodium cations are practically the exact same size (1.00 Å and also 0.99 Å, respectively), so from that perspective it makes sense the they substitute conveniently for each other, and also that any intermediate compositions in between CaAl2Si3O8 and also NaAlSi3O8 can exist. However, calcium and sodium ions don’t have the exact same charge (Ca2+ matches Na+), making the surprising the they substitute so easily. The distinction in fee is accommodated through substituting part Al3+ for Si4+. Albite has actually one Al and also three Si in that formula, when anorthite is has two Al and also two Si. Plagioclase feldspars of intermediate composition likewise have intermediate proportions that Al and also Si.


Quartz (SiO2; number 5.29) has only silica tetrahedra. In quartz, each silica tetrahedron is external inspection to four other tetrahedra (with an oxygen common at every edge of every tetrahedron), making a three-dimensional framework. As a result, the proportion of silicon to oxygen is 1:2. Due to the fact that the one silicon cation has a +4 charge and also the two oxygen anions each have a –2 charge, the fee is balanced. There is no need to add cations to balance the charge. The hardness of quartz and the fact that it division irregularly (notice the bottom the the crystal in number 5.29 right) and not follow me smooth planes an outcome from the solid covalent/ionic binding characteristic that the silica tetrahedron.

Figure 5.29 Quartz is another silicate mineral with a three-dimensional structure of silica tetrahedra. Occasionally quartz occurs together well-developed crystals (left), yet it likewise occurs in common rocks such together granite (right). In enhancement to quartz, the granite includes potassium feldspar, albite, and amphibole. Source: Karla Panchuk (2018) CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Picture by R. Weller/ Cochise College. Click the picture for photograph sources.

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Klein, C. & Hurlbut, C. S., Jr. (1993). Manual that Mineralogy (after J. D. Dana). New York, NY: man Wiley & Sons, Inc.