Stearns A. Morse

(Ph.D., McGill, 1962)

Research Professor of Petrology

Petrology and Geochemistry; Experimental Petrology

Current Research Program

My research covers many aspects of melting and crystallization in the Earth and planets, but most recently is concentrated on mafic magmas at crustal pressures.  A particular target has been the Kiglapait layered intrusion in Labrador and the Skaergaard intrusion in Greenland.  New studies of cumulates by Marian Holness at Cambridge have opened up a whole new avenue of research illuminating the process by which igneous cumulates form and solidify into rocks (e. g., Holness et al. 2007 J. Petrology 48, 2359-2377).  We find that this study of dihedral angles in thin section leads us back to the latent heat released when new crystal phases arrive at the liquidus.  The crystal mush overlying the solidification front tends to impede the sensible heat transfer out of the solidified rock and gives it a longer history at high temperature than before, allowing better cumulate maturation.

New plagioclase composition data for the Skaergaard intrusion, combined with our earlier experimental determination of the equilibrium among plagioclase, olivine, augite, and melt at 5 kbar has permitted a new estimate of crystallization temperatures in the Skaergaard intrusion (Morse, 2008 Am. Min. 248-251).  What makes this result particularly interesting is that it matches very closely a thoughtful experimental determination by Alex McBirney and Dick Naslund in 1990.

The range of plagioclase compositions at both Kiglapait and Skaergaard receives new attention as an indicator of adcumulus growth, by which an initial porosity tends to be eliminated by an isothermal exchange process.  New data show that residual porosity in both intrusions decreases to zero at intermediate stratigraphic levels and then rises to the end of crystallization, recording an increased tendency to equilibrium crystallization in the late-stage rocks.  More surprisingly, the treatment of old and new data suggests that a considerable degree (4-6 mole percent) of scatter in mineral compositions within a given hand specimen is original with the accumulating crystals.  This discovery suggests that even the olivine compositions may have not equilibrated with each other over the scale of centimeters during very slow cooling from the solidus  temperature.

In the meantime, theoretical and applied research on multiphase Rayleigh fractionation in magmas has yielded a quantitative test for the probability that large magma chambers may harbor an internal reservoir that replenishes the melt in a crystallization zone, allowing a much slower variation of mineral compositions than predicted by binary solutions crystallizing alone.  The implications of this study ramify throughout the local and regional mineral variation in layered igneous rocks.

Recent experimental work by grad student Deb Banks McIntosh defines the phase equilibria of a model Kiglapait magma composition at pressures up to 15 kb, with coexisting spinel, garnet, and aluminous pyroxenes that break the olivine-plagioclase tie line.

A new “Kiglapait Project” is being inaugurated to make available and curate electronically maps, sections, sample catalogs, chemical and mineralogical data, photomicrographs, field photos, and publications to accompany the Kiglapait sample collection at its eventual resting place at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Much work needs to be done.  For starters, see the Kiglapait Bibliography tab below.

News Update

NSF has awarded us (with John Brady and Mike Rhodes) a new 3-year grant for the continued experimental study of the Kiglapait magma at high pressure. This follows up on Deb McIntosh’s 2009 MS thesis from which we expect to add olivine to saturation at 13 kb and see how hot the magma and source region have to be to get the implied Fo-rich olivine composition on the liquidus. Another dozen tasks on the Kiglapait intrusion will tend to keep us busy.

To help keep our focus, we refer again to the image below of “Troctolite on the half-shell”, which contains a strong message on the textural equilibrium attained in our high-pressure runs in only 6.5 hours of crystal growth. In greater detail, the image shows the zoning of olivine that takes two days to re-equilibrate. What it does not show, but the probe analyses do, is that plagioclase grows at constant composition: adcumulus growth at a rate of 1-cm per year!

Troct lab Troctolite on the half-shell: back-scattered electron image of a melting experiment at 1,200°C and 5 kilobars pressure (equivalent to about 16 kilometers deep in the Earth) in the Five College High Pressure Petrology Laboratory at Smith College. The crystals of plagioclase (black, with low atomic number) and olivine (white, high atomic number) are embedded in glass that was quenched from the melt. The experiment was kept at temperature for 6.5 hours, in which time the crystals grew from tiny specks to the dimensions shown, all with sharp crystal faces denoting textural equilibrium. The image represents the early crystallization of the rock troctolite, which in nature would continue until all the melt was used up and only crystals remained, a solid rock. The experiment gives us the temperature of the equilibrium and the ability to determine the compositions of the minerals and of the glass (formerly melt). Source: Morse et al. (2004) J. Petrology


Other Interests

Championship hand mowing, skiing, riding, canoeing, logging.

Other Research Interests

Discovered Kiglapait Layered Intrusion, Labrador, used as a guide to igneous fractionation processes in the earth and planets. Discovered linear partitioning in binary solutions. Interested in mineral/melt partition coefficients; Anorthosites as guides to chemical and crustal evolution of the earth; Crystallization of terrestrial planets. Melting relations of rocks; theoretical and experimental petrology; multiphase Rayleigh fractionation. Intensive parameters of mafic magmas. Empirical magma dynamics. Petrology of sapphirine granulites. Optical mineralogy.

Related Information

Short CV

Short Bibliography

Recent Results

Journal of Petrology Covers

Five College Petrology

Sapphirine Granulites

Bibliography of the Kiglapait Intrusion

1969 Kiglapait Layered Intrusion map

Memorial to Everett Pepperrell Wheeler 2nd

Pep Wheeler's Almanac

Return to Faculty Index

Last updated 27 Oct 2011