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The Most Common Minerals on the Earth

Last Updated: 21st Sep 2017

By Jolyon & Katya Ralph



There are currently nearly 5000 minerals known to science, but only a few dozen are common enough to be found widespread throughout the Earth's crust. This article will explain a little bit about some of the most common minerals on the Earth and where the come from.

Inside the Earth



When we talk about the minerals found on the Earth we are talking about those that are found in the Earth's crust, the only part of the Earth really open for us to explore. The crust is a thin layer (up to 100km thick) under which lies the mantle and the upper (liquid) and lower (solid) core.

The structure of the Earth


The Elements



All minerals are made up of a mixture of the 90 naturally occurring elements, and it comes as no surprise that the most common minerals are those that contain the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust.

Table 1. Abundance of elements in the crust

ElementSymbolAbundance (%)
OxygenO46
SiliconSi27.7
AluminiumAl8.2
IronFe4.1
CalciumCa3.6
SodiumNa2.8
PotassiumK2.5
MagnesiumMg2.0
TitaniumTi0.4
HydrogenH0.1
PhosphorousP0.1
ManganeseMn0.1


The Minerals



Let's look at some of the most abundant minerals on Earth. Note that the photographs we show are often of exceptionally good crystals and not the form that average specimens of the minerals would appear to be - most rock-forming minerals are simply interlocking grains of a few mm maximum size, these photos show the potential of what these minerals can look like in the rare cases where conditions allow them to grow bigger and more perfect crystals.

The most common mineral in the crust is feldspar according to most references, with up to 52% of the crust being made up of feldspar. But feldspar is actually a group name for several related minerals - so we'll look a little at a couple of examples:











Amphibole

AX2Z5((Si,Al,Ti)8O22)(OH,F,Cl,O)2

The amphibole group also make up 5% of the crust, these, like the pyroxenes, are chain silicates (inosilicates), but unlike the pyroxene group these contain a double chain of silica tetrahedra. The amphibole group (known as a 'supergroup' on mindat because of its complexity) contains a large number of slightly different but structurally similar minerals.


Click here to read more about Amphibole



Clay minerals make up 5% (mostly in as ultra-fine particles in sedimentary rocks). After this we have 3% for every other silicate mineral, and only 8% for non-silicates (including carbonates such as calcite and dolomite, oxides such as magnetite and sulfides such as pyrite and pyrrhotite.

Below the crust



The mantle is around 2,900km thick, or about 46% of the Earth's radius, but represents 87% of the total volume of the Earth.

Although the mantle is only 5km below the surface at the crust's thinnest point the challenges in drilling through the crust to reach the mantle are immense (not least because the crust is only this thin in the deepest parts of the ocean.)

But we can deduce a lot about the minerals that make up the mantle from examining fragments of these mantle rocks that are brought up from very deep by volcanoes and from the careful study of seismic data which allows us to understand some of the structure of rocks buried beneath the crust. Computer models can also predict the temperature, pressure and chemistry at various depths in the Earth and from this we can deduce the types of minerals likely to be present.

Here are some of the other major minerals that are thought to make up the mantle:







Crystal System: Orthorhombic

Bridgmanite

(Mg,Fe)SiO3

But the most common mineral in the earth as a whole is a high-pressure form of olivine called bridgmanite - formed with a distinct structure and not found at all in the Earth's crust. It's formed below 660km deep in the mantle so is found too deep to be transported back up to the surface in volcanic activity. However, samples of this mineral have been found in meteorites.


Click here to read more about Bridgmanite



The Core


We know less about the core than any other part of the Earth not just because it is so remote but because the immense temperature/pressure found there are almost impossible to reproduce in laboratory experiments. We do know that the core is made up primarily of iron and nickel but also containing heavy elements such as gold and platinum in much greater concentrations than the crust. The outer core is liquid, but the inner core is solid. We can't ever take samples of the iron-nickel alloy from the inner core but we do believe the composition to be quite similar to that found in some metallic meteorites.




References

Klein, C., Hurlbut, C. S. (1993): Manual of Mineralogy, 21st Edition. John Wiley & Sons.

Tschauner, O. et al. (2014): Discovery of bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in Earth, in a shocked meteorite. Science, 346, 1100-1102. doi: 10.1126/science.1259369.

Stixrude, L. and Cohen, R.E. (1995): Constraints on the crystalline structure of the inner core: Mechanical instability of BCC iron at high pressure. Geophysical Research Letters, 22, 125-128.




Article has been viewed at least 32192 times.

Comments

We can find not only pieces of the mantle in volcanic rocks generated at depth (basalts in the ocean basins and kimberlites from other areas), but there are some rare exposures of ocean crust and upper mantle rocks on dry land. Experimentally, you can generate the high temperatures and pressures in diamond anvil presses.

David Von Bargen
21st Jun 2015 4:24pm
I did say "almost impossible", not "impossible". The problem is not just being able to generate the temperature/pressure environment but to do so in a way that enables you to analyse what is happening there. You can analyse what is left over once you turn the pressure cooker off but that's not the same.

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
21st Jun 2015 4:29pm
Use of a diamond anvil does allow you to examine the specimen with x-rays and visible light techniques at pressure and temperature.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_anvil_cell

David Von Bargen
22nd Jun 2015 7:04am
Hi Joylon and Katya,

The "Most Common Minerals on the Earth" article is terrific. Just adding an aside (since your theme is rather about the crust and also about common minerals, not rare):

Regarding modeling what is going on in the mantle and core in the last two sections, the diamond anvil cell (DAC) allows real-time observation by providing a window through which to observe the specimens while under test - that is the beauty of it. You can read more about the DAC on Dr. William A. Bassett's webpage, see link to the 2009 paper "Diamond Anvil Cell, 50th Birthday" in High Pressure Research 29, 163-186. He is one of the pioneers of diamond anvil cell high pressure research: http://www.geo.cornell.edu/eas/PeoplePlaces/Faculty/wab7/

Also, see our co-researcher's page, Dr. Steven D. Jacobsen: http://www.earth.northwestern.edu/research/jacobsen/
In Steve's photo, you see the view we see through the top diamond while under test, in this case a blue crystal of hydrous ringwoodite:
http://www.earth.northwestern.edu/research/jacobsen/pics/Jacobsen-Northwestern-high-pressure-sample-after.jpg


And to add to the list, perhaps "Josephinite: Specimens from the earth's core?" by our friends Jack Bird and Maura Weathers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0012821X75900734
and "Widmanstaetten patterns in josephinite, a metal-bearing terrestrial rock" by Bird, Weathers and Bassett.http://www.researchgate.net/publication/6019159_Widmanstaetten_patterns_in_josephinite_a_metal-bearing_terrestrial_rock

Don't forget too, those messengers from the deep, inclusions: "The Microworld of Diamonds: Images from Earth's Mantle" Koivula and Skalwold, Rocks & Minerals magazine, 2014http://www.rocksandminerals.org/Back%20Issues/2014/January-February%202014/microworld-abstract.html

Very best wishes as always,
Elise

Elise Skalwold
22nd Jun 2015 1:40pm
Hi Jolyon,

The article looks great! I have a new wide screen monitor and the text seem to be more readable. The use of PBOX saves a lot of time showing photos and it looks like you are able to write text in the BOX above the photos. When you get a chance can you show us what the code looks like to accomplish that?

Are the new features available to all of us? Also, I have some articles under construction. Can they be completed using the old format?


Larry Maltby
22nd Jun 2015 2:27pm
Of course, Larry,

Here is the code, it's quite simple:

<minbox name=galena>Galena, Lead Sulfide, is the most common ore of Lead. You can write whatever you want here and even include other tags such as <m>cerussite</m>.</minbox>

This renders as:



Note the photos chosen are the head photos for Galena.

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
22nd Jun 2015 6:11pm
Thanks Jolyon,

From what you have shown me I think that I can figure it out.

Larry Maltby
22nd Jun 2015 6:43pm
I've fixed that code so it works in the comment section too

Jolyon & Katya Ralph
22nd Jun 2015 10:15pm
Nice article! Another class of minerals that is perhaps lumped in with the 5% clays (or not) is zeolites. According to Tschernich's Zeolites of the World, 80% of the sediment on the Pacific and Indian Ocean floor is phillipsite with heulandite more common in the Atlantic sediment, with widespread analcime as well. We tend to think of only the rocks in the crust, but these sediments (100 to 600 meters thick) are part of it too, and they cover a huge, though essentially inaccessible area, despite being at the "surface". Not very collectible as "large" phillipsite crystals in them are only 0.2 mm long.

Harold Moritz
23rd Jun 2015 2:11pm
This is good stuff. It refers to some minerals that are not in many collections, but helps us keep things in perspective.

I would add that pyroxene is believed to be one of the major constituents of the mantle also. The volume of the mantle, even the upper mantle alone, is much greater than that of the crust, and it therefore must contain far more pyroxene than the crust. Don’t take the pyroxene discussion out of “Crust,” but maybe just mention it again for “Below the Crust.”

The discussion of bridgmanite is cutting edge, but should be regarded as somewhat tentativie at this time. The information for bridgmanite isolated from that meteorite from Australia is certainly valid. But some workers have provided evidence also for a hydrous magnesian silicate at ultra-high pressure (MgSiH2O4), referred to as “phase H,” that may be stable in the lower mantle. So, I suggest qualifying the discussion to emphasize that it is still early in the scientific process, dealing with hypotheses that have changed markedly over the years. (Statement in Mindat: “This mineral is believed to compose up to 93% of the lower mantle above around 2700km and therefore is probably the most abundant mineral in the Earth.”) I might say: “This mineral is believed by many researchers to compose up to 93% of the lower mantle above around 2700km and, if so, might be the most abundant mineral in the Earth.”

Norman King
14th Dec 2015 7:05pm
Harold touched on a subject that is close to my heart–namely, underappreciated minerals. While we should indeed discuss the most common minerals in the crust, we might also mention the things we find most often at the surface–what we see all around us. That brings clay minerals and iron oxides to the forefront–stuff that forms in the weathering environment. I realize that very few mineral collectors care much about clay minerals, and very few stop to think about all that red color they see across the globe as being hematite. Also, much surficial material consists of grains that are aggregates of minerals. Pieces that include only a single mineral species might be quite small. So, minerals in surficial materials are not often included in collections, but they could be if people wanted. Clearly, few collectors want that, but it is at least something for people to be aware of. Clay minerals are generally not very exciting. Except for a few brightly-colored ones, they have little appeal to collectors. One problem may be that it can be very difficult to know what clay mineral(s) you have, and probably few people think it is worth the expense and effort to obtain analyses. Yet such minerals and mineral groups are “all over the place” at the Earth’s surface.

Norman King
14th Dec 2015 7:42pm
There is some confusion here. Geology textbooks teach that quartz is the the single most common mineral in the crust, and that the feldspar group is the most common mineral group in the crust. Both of these are true, but the term "mineral" and 'group" can't be used interchangeably. In addition, plagioclase is a continuous solid solution series, with albite and anorthite as end members.


Don Halterman
10th Mar 2016 5:07am
I'd like to see some real evidence to support your claim that "Quartz is the single most common mineral in the crust". It may be true that Quartz is the most common mineral on the surface of the continental crust, but when you take into account oceanic crust and deeper crustal rocks, plagioclase is far more important, and one or both of albite and/or anorthite are certainly more common than quartz even if you treat them both as individual species.

Older textbooks probably refer to plagioclase being broken down into six species, including bytownite, labradorite, andesine and oligoclase. All of those are now regarded by mineralogists as varieties of either albite or anorthite.

This is why it is actually very important that both minerals and groups are used in a table like this, because a simple nomenclature change within the feldspar group suddenly changes six less-important minerals into two much more important minerals.

When looking just at species you are missing the bigger, and more important, picture about the distribution of minerals in the crust if you DON'T group these together as the group.

Ditto with pyroxenes and amphiboles. If you break these down into the individual species most species become unimportant, significantly underestimating the real importance of this group in the crust.

So what matters is this. Are you trying to teach something that actually tries to explain the makeup of the crust, or are you simply trying to assign scores to individual mineral species with no actual relevance to the real world?




Jolyon & Katya Ralph
21st Sep 2017 11:03pm
A very informative article, especially for someone like me who has never formally (or informally, actually) studied geology.

John Montgomery
15th Nov 2017 9:27pm

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