One of the major divisions of the mineral facies classification of metamorphic rocks, encompassing rocks whose peculiar mineralogy suggests that they formed under conditions of high pressure and relatively low temperature (generally less than about 662°F, or 350°C); such conditions are not typical of the normal geothermal gradient in the earth. The minerals that chiefly occur include soda amphibole (glaucophane), soda pyroxene (jadeite), garnet, lawsonite, and pumpellyite. Quartz, muscovite, chlorite, epidote, and plagioclase may also be present. Classic deposits occur in western California.
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Blueschist is a rock that forms by the metamorphism of basalt and rocks with similar composition at high pressures and low temperatures, approximately corresponding to a depth of 15 to 30 kilometers and 200 to ~500 degrees Celsius. The blue color of the rock comes from the presence of the mineral glaucophane.
Grain size is rarely coarse, as mineral growth is retarded by the swiftness of the rock's metamorphic trajectory and perhaps more importantly, the low temperatures of metamorphism and in many cases the anhydrous state of the basalts. However, coarse varieties do occur. Blueschists may appear blue, black, gray, or blue-green in outcrop. When lawsonite occurs in blueschists, it appears as white tabular crystals.
Blueschist facies is determined by the particular Temperature-Pressure conditions required to metamorphose basalt to form blueschist. Felsic rocks and pelitic sediments which are subjected to blueschist facies conditions will form different mineral assemblages than metamorphosed basalt.
Blueschist mineralogy varies by rock composition, but the classic equilibrium assemblages of blueschist facies are:
Blueschist facies generally is considered to form under pressures of >0.6 GPa, equivalent to depth of burial in excess of 15-18 km, and at temperatures of between 200 to 500 °C. This is a 'low temperature, high pressure' prograde metamorphic path and is also known as the Franciscan facies series, after the west coast of the United States where these rocks are exposed. Well-exposed blueschists also occur in Greece, Turkey, Japan, and New Caledonia.
Continued subduction of blueschist facies oceanic crust will produce eclogite facies assemblages in metamorphosed basalt (garnet + omphacitic clinopyroxene). Rocks which have been subjected to blueschist conditions during a prograde trajectory will gain heat by conduction with hotter lower crustal rocks if they remain at the 15-18km depth. Blueschist which heats up to greater than 500 °C via this fashion will enter greenschist or eclogite facies temperature-pressure conditions, and the mineral assemblages will metamorphose to reflect the new facies conditions.
Thus in order for blueschist facies assemblages to be seen at the Earth's surface, the rock must be exhumed swiftly enough to prevent total thermal equilibration of the rocks which are under blueschist facies conditions with the typical geothermal gradient.
Blueschists and other high-pressure subduction zone rocks are thought to be exhumed rapidly by flow and/or faulting in accretionary wedges or the upper parts of subducted crust, or may return to the Earth's surface in part owing to buoyancy if the metabasaltic rocks are associated with low-density continental crust (marble, metapelite, and other rocks of continental margins).
In 1962, Edgar Bailey of the U.S. Geological Survey introduced the concept of "blueschist" into the world of metamorphic geology. His carefully constructed definition established the pressure and temperature conditions which produce this type of metamorphism.