Cumulate rocks are typically named according to the cumulate minerals in order of abundance, and then cumulate type (adcumulate, mesocumulate, orthocumulate), and then accessory or minor phases. For example:
Cumulate terminology is appropriate for use when describing cumulate rocks. In intrusions which have a uniform composition and minimal textural and mineralogical layering or visible crystal accumulations it is inappropriate to describe them according to this convention. This is particularly true if a gabbro is in fact a gabbro.
One way to infer the composition of the magma that created the cumulate rocks is to measure groundmass chemistry, but that chemistry is problematic or impossible to sample. Otherwise, complex calculations of averaging cumulate layers must be required, which is a complex process. Alternatively, the magma composition can be estimated by assuming certain conditions of magma chemistry and testing them on phase diagrams using measured mineral chemistry. These methods work fairly well for cumulates formed in volcanic conditions (ie; komatiites). Investigating magma conditions of large layered ultramafic intrusions is more fraught with problems.
These methods have their drawbacks, primarily that they must all make certain assumptions which rarely hold true in nature. The foremost problem is the fact that in large ultramafic intrusions, assimilation of wall rocks tends to alter the chemistry of the melt as time progresses, so measuring groundmass compositions may fall short. Mass balance calculations will show deviations from expected ranges, which may infer assimilation has occurred, but then further chemistry must be embarked upon to quantify these findings.
Secondly, large ultramafic intrusions are rarely sealed systems and may be subject to regular injections of fresh, primitive magma, or to loss of volume due to further upward migration of the magma (possibly to feed volcanic vents or dyke swarms). In such cases, calculating magma chemistries may resolve nothing more than the presence of these two processes having affected the intrusion.
These conditions are created by the high-temperature fractionation of highly magnesian olivine and/or pyroxene, which causes a relative iron-enrichment in the residual melt. When the iron content of the melt is sufficiently high enough, magnetite or ilmenite crystallise and, due to their high density, form cumulate rocks. Chromite is generally formed during pyroxene fractionation at low pressures, where chromium is rejected from the pyroxene crystals.
These oxide layers form laterally continuous deposits of rocks containing in excess of 50% oxide minerals. When oxide minerals exceed 90% of the bulk of the interval the rock may be classified according to the oxide mineral, for example magnetitite, ilmenitite or chromitite. Strictly speaking, these would be magnetite orthocumulate, ilmenite orthocumulate and chromite orthocumulates.
They are not strictly a cumulate rock, as the sulfide is not precipitated as a solid mineral, but rather as immiscible sulfide liquid. However, they are formed by the same processes and accumulate due to their high specific gravity, and can form laterally extensive sulfide 'reefs'. The sulfide minerals generally form an interstitial matrix to a silicate cumulate.
Sulfide mineral segregations can only be formed when a magma attains sulfur saturation. In mafic and ultramafic rocks they form economic Ni, Cu and PGE deposits because these elements are chalcophile and are strongly partitioned into the sulfide melt. In rare cases, felsic rocks become sulfur saturated and form sulfide segregations. In this case, the typical result is a disseminated form of sulfide mineral, usually a mixture of pyrrhotite, pyrite and chalcopyrite, forming Cu mineralisation. It is very rare but not unknown to see cumulate sulfide rocks in granitic intrusions.