Diagenetic Modification of Clay Mineral Types in Artificial Sea Water1

U. Grant Whitehouse and Ronald S. McCarter
Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, College Station, Texas
1 A contribution from the Department of Oceanography and the Electron Microscopy Laboratories, A. and M. College of Texas, College Station, Texas, Oceanographic and Meteorological Series no. 110 and Electron Microscopy Series no. EM-56-1-4.

Abstract: Analyses of samples of kaolinitic, illitic, and montmorillonitic clay materials exposed to artificial sea water for periods of six months to five years have yielded some evidence to support the contention that chloritic and illitic clay types may ultimately develop from montmorillonitic material in the marine environment. However, no indications of the initiation or induction of any major lattice alteration of the original kaolinite and illitic type structures have been recognized on the basis of the data collected.

The techniques of electron diffraction, electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and chemical analysis were employed to detect and measure the extent of modification of the clay materials at selected time intervals during the five year period.

Actual separations of illitic-like and chloritic-like materials from treated montmorillonitic material were accomplished by gravitational settling methods. Relative weight percents of 18.2 for chloritic clay separates and 4.4 for illitic clay separates were obtained after more than four years of treatment. Chemical analysis and electron microscopy data suggest that lattice alteration preceded the development of forty to seventy percent of the chloritic and illitic material separated.

The chloritic material apparently developed by initial formation of a magnesium-enriched montmorillonite having a hectoritic appearance. Subsequent development of threadlike extensions from the magnesium montmorillonite is shown by electron micrographs. These threads were observed to decrease or equilibrate in apparent amount within the chloritic separates as platelike forms began to appear after three years. The illitic separates were characterized by fine granular material with increasing occurrence of larger platelike forms as exposure time increased.

The modification of montmorillonitic clay was observed to be more dependent upon the magnesium-potassium ratio in the sea water than upon the total salt concentration levels. The limiting magnesium-potassium ratio was found to be approximately 9.4 with a limiting low potassium concentration of 0.005 moles per liter for montmorillonitic material of less than 0.5 micron settling diameter. The alteration of the montmorillonitic material was noted only for material that was initially settled through the artificial sea water media. As the potassium concentration level of these media dropped by extraction below 0.005 molar, a bulk effect of the settling material became operative and the relative percent of altered material decreased.

Further, the relative amounts of modified material detected were decreased by the introduction of carbohydrate material into the sea water media. The amounts present after a definite time interval were also observed to be dependent upon the distributive tendencies of the source materials and the physical disturbance of the sea water media. Resuspension of the material by reagitation of the system decreased and significantly governed the rate of diagenetic modification.

Special electron micrographs are presented to illustrate relative stages of flocculation of montmorillonitic material as the ionic concentration of sea water increases. It is suggested that these stages govern to an appreciable extent the extent and rate of initiation of any ionic exchange and lattice changes that occur.

Clays and Clay Minerals; 1956 v. 5; no. 1; p. 81-119; DOI: 10.1346/CCMN.1956.0050108
© 1956, The Clay Minerals Society
Clay Minerals Society (www.clays.org)