Nepheline Syenite - Encyclopedia

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NEPHELINE SYENITE, or Elaeolite-Syenite, a holocrystalline plutonic rock which consists largely of nepheline and alkali felspar. The rocks are mostly pale coloured, grey or pink, and in general appearance they are not unlike granites, but dark green varieties are also known. They do not contain quartz, as that mineral and nepheline are mutually exclusive. From ordinary syenites they are distinguished not only by the presence of nepheline but also by the occurrence of many other minerals rich in alkalis or in rare earths. Orthoclase and albite are the principal felspars; usually they are intergrown to form perthite. In some rocks the potash felspar, in others the soda felspar predominates. Soda-lime felspars such as oligoclase and andesine are rare or entirely absent. Fresh clear microcline is very characteristic of some types of nepheline-syenite. Sodalite, colourless and transparent in the slides, but frequently pale blue in the hand specimens, is the principal felspathoid mineral in addition to nepheline. As a rule these two crystallize before felspar, but they may occur in perthitic intergrowth with it. The commonest ferro-magnesian mineral is pale green augite, which may be surrounded by rims of dark-green, pleochroic soda-augite (aegirine). The latter forms long flat prisms or bundles of radiating needles. A dark reddish-brown biotite is very common in some of these rocks and a white mica, probably not muscovite but lepidolite, is occasionally present. The hornblende may be brown, brownish-green, blue or blue-black, belonging as a rule to the varieties which contain soda; it is often intergrown with the pyroxene or enclosed in it. The dark-brown triclinic hornblende aenigmatite occurs also in these rocks. Olivine is rare, but may be found in some basic forms of nepheline-syenite.

The commonest accessories are sphene, zircon, iron ores and apatite. Cancrinite occurs in several nepheline-syenites; in others there is fluor-spar or melanite garnet. A great number of interesting and rare minerals have been recorded from nepheline-syenites and the pegmatite veins which intersect them. Among these we may mention eudialyte, eukolite, mosandrite, rinkite, johnstrupite, lavenite, hiortdahlite, perofskite and lamprophyllite. Many of these contain fluorine and the rare earths.

Nepheline-syenites are rare rocks; there is only one occurrence in Great Britain and one in France and Portugal. They are known also in Bohemia and in several places in Norway, Sweden and Finland. In America these rocks have been found in Texas, Arkansas and Massachussetts, also in Ontario, British Columbia and Brazil. South Africa, Madagascar, India, Tasmania, Timor and Turkestan are other localities for the rocks of this series. They exhibit also a remarkable individuality as each occurrence has its own special features; moreover a variety of types characterizes each occurrence, as these rocks are very variable. For these reasons, together with the numerous rare minerals they contain, they have attracted a great deal of attention from petrographers.

Many types of nepheline-syenite have received designations derived from the localities in which they were discovered. The laurdalites (from Laurdal in Norway) are grey or pinkish, and in many ways closely resemble the laurvikites of southern Norway,. with which they occur. They contain anorthoclase felspars of lozenge-shaped forms, biotite or greenish augite, much apatite and sometimes olivine. Some of these rocks are porphyritic. The foyaites include the greater number of known nepheline-syenites and are called after Foya in the Serra de Monchique (southern Portugal), from which they were first described. They are grey, green or reddish, and mostly of massive structure with preponderating potash felspar, some nepheline, and a variable (often small) amount of femic minerals. Pyroxene-, hornblendeand biotitefoyaites have been recognized according to their mineral composition. Examples of the first-named occur in southern Norway with the laurdalites; they contain aegirine and black mica. At Alno Island in the Gulf of Bothnia (Sweden) similar rocks are found bearing enclosures or altered limestone with wollastonite and scapolite. In Siebenburgen (Hungary) there is a well-known rock of this group, very rich in microcline, blue sodalite and cancrinite. It contains also orthoclase, nepheline, biotite, aegirine, acmite, &c. To this type the name ditroite has been given from the place where it occurs (Ditro). Pyroxene-foyaite has been described also from Pouzac in the Pyrenees (S. France). Mica-foyaite is not very common, but is known at Miask in the Ural Mountains (miaskite), where it is coarse-grained, and contains black mica, sodalite and cancrinite. The hornblende-foyaites are usually brown or blue, and intensely dichroic, but may contain also biotite or augite. Rocks of this class occur in Brazil (Serra de Tingua) containing sodalite and often much augite, in the western Sahara and Cape Verde Islands; also at Zwarte Koppies in the Transvaal, Madagascar, Sao Paulo (in Brazil), Paisano Pass (West Texas) and Montreal, Canada. The rock of Salem, Mass., U.S.A., is a mica-foyaite rich in albite and aegirine; it accompanies granite and essexite.

Litchfieldite is another well-marked type of nepheline-syenite, in which albite is the dominant felspar. It is named after Litchfield, Maine, U.S.A., where it occurs in scattered blocks. Biotite, cancrinite and sodalite are characteristic of this rock. A similar nepheline-syenite is known from Hastings Co., Ontario, and contains hardly any orthoclase, but only albite felspar. Nepheline is very abundant and there is also cancrinite, sodalite, scapolite, calcite, biotite and hornblende. The lujaurites are distinguished from the rocks above described by their dark colour, which is due to the abundance of minerals such as augite, aegirine, arfvedsonite and other kinds of amphibole. Typical examples are known near Lujaur on the White Sea, where they occur with umptekites and other very peculiar rocks. Other localities for this group are at Julianehaab in Greenland (with sodalite-syenite); at their margins they contain pseudomorphs after leucite. The lujaurites frequently have a parallel-banding or gneissose structure.

Sodalite-syenites in .which sodalite very largely or completely takes the place of nepheline occur in Greenland, where they contain also microcline-perthite, aegirine, arfvedsonite and eudialyte. Cancrinite-syenite, with a large percentage of cancrinite, has been described from Dalekarlia (Sweden) and from Finland. We may also mention urtite from Lujaur Urt on the White Sea, which consists very largely of nepheline, with aegirine and apatite, but no felspar. Jacupirangite (from Jacupiranga in Brazil) is a blackish rock composed of titaniferous augite, magnetite, ilmenite, perofskite and nepheline, with secondary biotite.

The chemical peculiarities of the nepheline-syenites are well marked, as will be seen from the following analyses. They are exceedingly rich in alkalis and in alumina (hence the abundance of felspathoids and alkali felspars) with silica varying from 50 to 56%, while lime, magnesia and iron are never present in great quantity, though somewhat more variable than the other components. As a group, also, these rocks have a low specific gravity.







Laurdalite .


1 9' 0 7




I. 9 8

4' 8 4


Ditroite .

















Lujaurite .

5 4.14






5' 2 5


(J. S. F.)

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