Bowen’s Reaction Series describes the temperature at which minerals crystallize when cooled, or melt when heated. The low end of the temperature scale where all minerals crystallize into solid rock is approximately 700°C (158°F). The upper end of the range where all minerals exist in a molten state is approximately 1,250°C (2,282°F) . These numbers reference minerals that crystallize at standard sea-level pressure, 1 bar. The values will be different for minerals located deep below the Earth’s surface due to the increased pressure, which affects crystallization and melting temperatures (see Chapter 4.4). However, the order and relationships are maintained.
In the figure, the righthand column lists the four groups of igneous rock from top to bottom: ultramafic, mafic, intermediate, and felsic. The down-pointing arrow on the far right shows increasing amounts of silica, sodium, aluminum, and potassium as the mineral composition goes from ultramafic to felsic. The up-pointing arrow shows increasing ferromagnesian components, specifically iron, magnesium, and calcium. To the far left of the diagram is a temperature scale. Minerals near the top of the diagram, such as olivine and anorthite (a type of plagioclase), crystallize at higher temperatures. Minerals near the bottom, such as quartz and muscovite, crystalize at lower temperatures.
The most important aspect of Bowen’s Reaction Series is to notice the relationships between minerals and temperature. Norman L. Bowen (1887-1956) was an early 20th Century geologist who studied igneous rocks. He noticed that in igneous rocks, certain minerals always occur together and these mineral assemblages exclude other minerals. Curious as to why, and with the hypothesis in mind that it had to do with the temperature at which the rocks cooled, he set about conducting experiments on igneous rocks in the early 1900s. He conducted experiments on igneous rock—grinding combinations of rocks into powder, sealing the powders into metal capsules, heating them to various temperatures, and then cooling them.
When he opened the quenched capsules, he found a glass surrounding mineral crystals that he could identify under his petrographic microscope. The results of many of these experiments, conducted at different temperatures over a period of several years, showed that the common igneous minerals crystallize from magma at different temperatures. He also saw that minerals occur together in rocks with others that crystallize within similar temperature ranges, and never crystallize with other minerals. This relationship can explain the main difference between mafic and felsic igneous rocks. Mafic igneous rocks contain more mafic minerals, and therefore, crystallize at higher temperatures than felsic igneous rocks. This is even seen in lava flows, with felsic lavas erupting hundreds of degrees cooler than their mafic counterparts. Bowen’s work laid the foundation for understanding igneous petrology (the study of rocks) and resulted in his book, The Evolution of the Igneous Rocks in 1928 .