2.1: Elements and Minerals
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All matter is made of atoms of individual elements. For example, the matter of the Milky Way, our galaxy, is mostly hydrogen and helium – the same elements that make up >99% of our sun. Earth, however, is dominated by other elements, and 8 to 10 elements account for most of Earth’s mass. Although Earth’s crust and mantle contain the same major elements, the proportions are not the same (see histograms below). And, the core is completely different from the crust and mantle – it is mostly iron with perhaps 20% nickel and lesser amounts of other elements.
2.2 Elements in the crust and mantle
Most of the minerals and other geological materials we see derive from the crust, but some come from the uppermost part of the mantle. In both places, oxygen and silicon are the dominant elements (Figures 2.2 and 2.3). Together these two elements make up about three quarters of the crust, and two thirds of the mantle. Other quite abundant elements in both the crust and mantle include aluminum, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium. However, the mantle contains much more magnesium and iron, and less silicon, than the crust. Hydrogen (0.15 wt%) and carbon (0.18 wt%) are overall minor elements in the crust but are key components in some minerals. And other generally rare elements are sometimes concentrated by geological process to make exotic minerals.
The compositions of Earth’s outer layers vary somewhat laterally and vertically. For example, the oceanic crust is not the same composition as the continental crust. And, the composition of the shallow crust is somewhat different from the deep crust. Nonetheless, in most settings, we can expect common minerals to be made of the elements shown in the histograms above.
Some elements are common in many different minerals. Oxygen and silicon are perhaps the best examples. Many sedimentary rocks and nearly all igneous and metamorphic rocks are composed of multiple minerals containing these two elements. In contrast, because of their properties, some other elements tend to be found in only a few distinct minerals. For example, titanium (Ti) may occur as a minor component in biotite, amphibole, or other minerals. In many rocks, however, Ti is concentrated in Ti-rich minerals such as rutile (TiO2), titanite (CaTiSiO5), and ilmenite (FeTiO3). Rocks rich in Ti always contain one of these latter three minerals. Similarly, rocks containing significant amounts of phosphorous usually contain apatite, Ca5(PO4)3(OH,F,Cl), or monazite, (Ce,La,Th,Y)PO4.