Dolomite rock (also dolostone) is composed predominantly of the mineral dolomite. Limestone that is partially replaced by dolomite is referred to as dolomitic limestone, or in old U.S. geologic literature as magnesian limestone. Dolomite was first described in 1791 as the rock by the French naturalist and geologist, Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu (1750–1801) for exposures in the Dolomite Alps of northern Italy.
Vast deposits are present in the geological record, but the mineral is relatively rare in modern environments. However, laboratory synthesis of stoichiometric dolomite has been carried out only at temperatures of greater than 100 degrees Celsius, conditions typical of burial in sedimentary basins—even though much dolomite in the rock record appears to have formed in low-temperature conditions. The high temperature is likely to speed up the movement of calcium and magnesium ions so that they can find their places in the ordered structure within a reasonable amount of time. This suggests that the lack of dolomite that is being formed today is likely due to kinematic factors. Modern dolomite does occur as a precipitating mineral in specialized environments on the surface of the earth today. In the 1950s and 60s, dolomite was found to be forming in highly saline lakes in the Coorong region of South Australia. Dolomite crystals also occur in deep-sea sediments, where organic matter content is high. This dolomite is termed "organogenic" dolomite. Recent research has found modern dolomite formation under anaerobic conditions in supersaturated saline lagoons along the Rio de Janeiro coast of Brazil, namely, Lagoa Vermelha and Brejo do Espinho. One interesting reported case was the formation of dolomite in the kidneys of a Dalmatian dog. This was believed to be due to chemical processes triggered by bacteria. Dolomite has been speculated to develop under these conditions with the help of sulfate-reducing bacteria. This joins other research in pointing out many new interesting links between large-scale geology and small-scale microbiology (see geomicrobiology). The actual role of bacteria in the low-temperature formation of dolomite remains to be demonstrated. The specific mechanism of dolomitization, involving sulfate-reducing bacteria, has not yet been demonstrated. Dolomite appears to form in many different types of environment and can have varying structural, textural and chemical characteristics. Some researchers have stated "there are dolomites and dolomites", meaning that there may not be one single mechanism by which dolomite can form. Much modern dolomite differs significantly from the bulk of the dolomite found in the rock record, leading researchers to speculate that environments where dolomite formed in the geologic past differ significantly from those where it forms today. Reproducible laboratory syntheses of dolomite (and magnesite) leads first to the initial precipitation of a metastable "precursor" (such as magnesium calcite), to be changed gradually into more and more of the stable phase (such as dolomite or magnesite) during periodical intervals of dissolution and reprecipitation. The general principle governing the course of this irreversible geochemical reaction has been coined Ostwald's step rule.
For a very long time scientists had difficulties synthesizing dolomite. However, in a 1999 study, through a processes of dissolution alternating with the intervals of precipitation measurable levels of dolomite were synthesized at low temperatures and pressures.