Crystalline metamorphic rock that has a highly developed tendency to split into layers. Most schists are composed largely of platy minerals such as muscovite, chlorite, talc, biotite, and graphite. The green colour of many schists and their formation under a certain range of temperature and pressure conditions have led to distinction of the greenschist facies in the mineral facies classification of metamorphic rocks. Schists are usually classified on the basis of their mineralogy, with varietal names that indicate the characteristic mineral present.
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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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The schists form a group of medium-grade metamorphic rocks, chiefly notable for the preponderance of lamellar minerals such as micas, chlorite, talc, hornblende, graphite, and others. Quartz often occurs in drawn-out grains to such an extent that a particular form called quartz schist is produced. By definition, schist contains more than 50% platy and elongated minerals, often finely interleaved with quartz and feldspar. Schist is often garnetiferous.
The individual mineral grains in schist, drawn out into flaky scales by heat and pressure, can be seen by the naked eye. Schist is characteristically foliated, meaning the individual mineral grains split off easily into flakes or slabs. The word schist is derived from the Greek word σχίζειν meaning "to split", which is a reference to the ease with which schists can be split along the plane in which the platy minerals lie.
Most schists have been derived from clays and muds which have passed through a series of metamorphic processes involving the production of shales, slates and phyllites as intermediate steps. Certain schists have been derived from fine-grained igneous rocks such as basalts and tuffs. Most schists are mica schists, but graphite and chlorite schists are also common.
Schists are frequently used as dimension stone.
The schists are classified principally according to the minerals they consist of and on their chemical composition. For example, many metamorphic limestones, marbles, and calc-schists, with crystalline dolomites, contain silicate minerals such as mica, tremolite, diopside, scapolite, quartz and feldspar. They are derived from calcareous sediments of different degrees of purity. Another group is rich in quartz (quartzites, quartz schists and quartzose gneisses), with variable amounts of white and black mica, garnet, feldspar, zoisite and hornblende. These were once sandstones and arenaceous rocks. The graphitic schists may readily be believed to represent sediments once containing coal or plant remains; there are also schistose ironstones (hematite-schists), but metamorphic beds of salt or gypsum are exceedingly uncommon. Among schists of igneous origin there are the silky calc-schists, the foliated serpentines (once ultramafic masses rich in olivine), and the white mica-schists, porphyroids and banded halleflintas, which have been derived from rhyolites, quartz-porphyries and felsic tuffs. The majority of mica-schists, however, are altered claystones and shales, and pass into the normal sedimentary rocks through various types of phyllite and mica-slates. They are among the most common metamorphic rocks; some of them are graphitic and others calcareous. The diversity in appearance and composition is very great, but they form a well-defined group not difficult to recognize, from the abundance of black and white micas and their thin, foliated, schistose character. As a special subgroup we have the andalusite, staurolite, kyanite and sillimanite-schists which usually make their appearance in the vicinity of gneissose granites, and have presumably been affected by contact metamorphism.