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magma consists mostly of liquid rock matter, but may contain crystals of various minerals, and may contain a gas phase that may be dissolved in the liquid or may be present as a separate gas phase.
Magma can cool to form an igneous rock either on the surface of the Earth - in which case it produces a volcanic or extrusive igneous rock, or beneath the surface of the Earth,  - in which case it produces a plutonic or intrusive igneous rock.

Sources of Magma


1- Partial melting

Melting of solid rocks to form magma is controlled by three physical parameters: its temperature, pressure, and composition. Mechanisms are discussed in the entry for igneous rock.

When rocks melt they do so incrementally and gradually; most rocks are made of several minerals, all of which have different melting points, and the physical/chemical relationships controlling melting are complex. As a rock melts, its volume changes. When enough rock is melted, the small globules of melt (generally occurring in between mineral grains) link up and soften the rock. Under pressure within the earth, as little as a fraction of a percent partial melting may be sufficient to cause melt to be squeezed from its source. Melts can stay in place long enough to melt to 20% or even 35%, but rocks are rarely melted in excess of 50%, because eventually the melted rock mass becomes a crystal and melt mush that can then ascend en masse as a diapir, which may then cause further decompression melting.

2- Geochemical implications of partial melting

The degree of partial melting is critical for determining what type of magma is produced. The degree of partial melting required to form a melt can be estimated by considering the relative enrichment of incompatible elements versus compatible elements. Incompatible elements commonly include potassium, barium, caesium, rubidium.

Rock types produced by small degrees of partial melting in the Earth's mantle are typically alkaline (Ca, Na), potassic (K) and/or peralkaline (high aluminium to silica ratio). Typically, primitive melts of this composition form lamprophyre, lamproite, kimberlite and sometimes nepheline-bearing mafic rocks such as alkali basalts and essexite gabbros or even carbonatite.

Pegmatite may be produced by low degrees of partial melting of the crust. Some granite-composition magmas are eutectic (or cotectic) melts, and they may be produced by low to high degrees of partial melting of the crust, as well as by fractional crystallization. At high degrees of partial melting of the crust, granitoids such as tonalite, granodiorite and monzonite can be produced, but other mechanisms are typically important in producing them.

3- Magma usage for energy production

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project, while drilling several 5000m holes in an attempt to harness the heat in the volcanic bedrock below the surface of Iceland, struck a pocket of magma at 2,100m. Being only the third time in recorded history that magma had been reached, IDDP decided to invest in the hole, naming it IDDP-1.

A cemented steelcase was constructed in the hole with a perforation at the bottom close to the magma. The high temperatures and pressure of the magma steam were used to generate 36MW of power, making IDDP-1 the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal system.

Evolution of Magmas



Primary melts

When a rock melts, the liquid is a primary melt. Primary melts have not undergone any differentiation and represent the starting composition of a magma. In nature it is rare to find primary melts. The leucosomes of migmatites are examples of primary melts. Primary melts derived from the mantle are especially important, and are known as primitive melts or primitive magmas. By finding the primitive magma composition of a magma series it is possible to model the composition of the mantle from which a melt was formed, which is important in understanding evolution of the mantle.

Parental melts

Where it is impossible to find the primitive or primary magma composition, it is often useful to attempt to identify a parental melt. A parental melt is a magma composition from which the observed range of magma chemistries has been derived by the processes of igneous differentiation. It need not be a primitive melt.

For instance, a series of basalt flows are assumed to be related to one another. A composition from which they could reasonably be produced by fractional crystallization is termed a parental melt. Fractional crystallization models would be produced to test the hypothesis that they share a common parental melt.

Characteristics of Magma
Types of Magma




Types of magma are determined by chemical composition of the magma. Three general types are recognized, but we will look at other types later in the course:

  1. Basaltic magma --  SiO2 45-55 wt%, high in Fe, Mg, Ca, low in K, Na
  2. Andesitic magma --  SiO2 55-65 wt%, intermediate. in Fe, Mg, Ca, Na, K
  3. Rhyolitic magma --  SiO2 65-75%, low in Fe, Mg, Ca, high in K, Na
Gases in Magmas

At depth in the Earth nearly all magmas contain gas dissolved in the liquid, but the gas forms a separate vapor phase when pressure is decreased as magma rises toward the surface.  This is similar to carbonated beverages which are bottled at high pressure. The high pressure keeps the gas in solution in the liquid, but when pressure is decreased, like when you open the can or bottle, the gas comes out of solution and forms a separate gas phase that you see as bubbles.   Gas gives magmas their explosive character, because volume of gas expands as pressure is reduced.  The composition of the gases in magma are:

  • Mostly H2O (water vapor) with some CO2 (carbon dioxide)
  • Minor amounts of Sulfur, Chlorine, and Fluorine gases
The amount of gas in a magma is also related to the chemical composition of the magma.   Rhyolitic  magmas usually have higher dissolved gas contents than basaltic  magmas.

Temperature of Magmas

Temperature of magmas is difficult to measure (due to the danger involved), but laboratory measurement and limited field observation indicate that the eruption temperature of various magmas is as follows:
  • Basaltic magma - 1000 to 1200oC
  • Andesitic magma -  800 to 1000oC
  • Rhyolitic magma -  650 to 800oC.
Viscosity of Magmas

Viscosity is the resistance to flow (opposite of fluidity).  Viscosity depends on primarily on the composition of the magma, and temperature.

  • Higher SiO2 (silica) content magmas have higher viscosity than lower SiO2 content magmas (viscosity increases with increasing SiO2 concentration in the magma).
  • Lower temperature magmas have higher viscosity than higher temperature magmas (viscosity decreases with increasing temperature of the magma).
Thus, basaltic magmas tend to be fairly fluid (low viscosity), but their viscosity is still 10,000 to 100,0000 times more viscous than water.  Rhyolitic magmas tend to have even higher viscosity, ranging between 1 million and 100 million times more viscous than water.  (Note that solids, even though they appear solid have a viscosity, but it is very high, measured as trillions time the viscosity of water).  Viscosity is an important property in determining the eruptive behavior of magmas.

Summary Table
Magma TypeSolidified RockChemical CompositionTemperatureViscosityGas Content
BasalticBasalt45-55 SiO2 %, high in Fe, Mg, Ca, low in K, Na1000 - 1200 oC10 - 10PaSLow
AndesiticAndesite55-65 SiO2 %, intermediate in Fe, Mg, Ca, Na, K800 - 1000 oC103 - 105 PaSIntermediate
RhyoliticRhyolite65-75 SiO2 %, low in Fe, Mg, Ca, high in K, Na.650 - 800 oC105 - 109 PaSHigh

Introduction to Igneous Rocks

An igneous rock is any crystalline or glassy rock that forms from cooling of a magma.
magma consists mostly of liquid rock matter, but may contain crystals of various minerals, and may contain a gas phase that may be dissolved in the liquid or may be present as a separate gas phase.
Magma can cool to form an igneous rock either on the surface of the Earth - in which case it produces a volcanic or extrusive igneous rock, or beneath the surface of the Earth,  - in which case it produces a plutonic or intrusive igneous rock. 

How to classify Igneous rocks into (Ultramafic, Mafic, Intermediate and Felsic) ?
The Relationship Between Igneous Rocks & Tectonic Plates

References: 1 , 23

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