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GNEISS

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Originally appearing in Volume V12, Page 150 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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GNEISS, a term long used by the miners of the Harz Mountains to designate the country rock in which the mineral veins occur; it is believed to be a word of Slavonic origin meaning " rotted " or " decomposed." It has gradually passed into acceptance as a generic term signifying a large and varied series of metamorphic rocks, which mostly consist of quartz and felspar (orthoclase and plagioclase) with muscovite and biotite, hornblende or augite, iron oxides, zircon and apatite. There is also a long list of accessory minerals which are present in gneisses with more or less frequency, but not invariably, as garnet, sillimanite, cordierite, graphite and graphitoid, epidote, calcite, orthite, tourmaline and andalusite. The gneisses all possess a more or less marked parallel structure or foliation, which is the main feature by which many of them are separated from the granites, a group of rocks having nearly the same mineralogical composition and closely allied to many gneisses. The felspars of the gneisses are predominantly orthoclase (often perthitic), but microcline is common in the more acid types and oligoclase occurs also very frequently, especially in certain sedimentary gneisses, while more basic varieties of plagioclase are rare. Quartz is very seldom absent and may be blue or milky and opalescent. Muscovite and biotite may both occur in the same rock; in other cases only one of them is present. The commonest and most important types of gneiss are the micagneisses. Hornblende is green, rarely brownish; augite pale green or nearly colourless; enstatite appears in some granulitegneisses. Epidote, often with enclosures of orthite, is by no means rare in gneisses from many different parts of the world. Sillimanite and andalusite are not infrequent ingredients of gneiss, and their presence has been accounted for in more than one way. Cordierite-gneisses are a special group of great interest and possessing many peculiarities; they are partly, if not entirely, foliated contact-altered sedimentary rocks. Kyanite and staurolite may also be mentioned as occasionally occurring. Many varieties of gneiss have received specific names according to the minerals they consist of and the structural peculiarities they exhibit. Muscovite-gneiss, biotite-gneiss and muscovitebiotite-gneiss, more common perhaps than all the others taken together, are grey or pinkish rocks according to the colour of their prevalent felspar, not unlike granites, but on the whole more often fine-grained (though coarse-grained types occur) and possessing a gneissose or foliated structure. The latter consists in the arrangement of the flakes of mica in such a way that their faces are parallel, and hence the rock has the property of splitting more readily in the direction in which the mica plates are disposed. This fissility, though usually marked, is not so great as in the schists or slates, and the split faces are not so smooth as in these latter rocks. The films of mica may be continuous and are usually not flat, but irregularly curved. In some gneisses the parallel flakes of mica are scattered through the quartz and felspar; in others these minerals form discrete bands, the quartz and felspar being grouped into lenticles separated by thin films of mica. When large felspars, of rounded or elliptical form, are visible in the gneiss, it is said to have augen structure (Ger. Augen=eyes). It should also be remarked that the essential component minerals of the rocks of this family are practically always determinable by naked eye inspection or with the aid of a simple lens. If the rock is too fine grained for this it is generally relegated to the schists. When the bands of folia are very fine and tortuous the structure is called helizitic. In mica-gneisses sillimanite, kyanite, andalusite and garnet may occur. The significance of these minerals is variously interpreted; they may indicate that the gneiss consists wholly or in part of sedimentary material which has been contact-altered, but they have also been regarded as having been developed by metamorphic action out of biotite or other primary ingredients of the rock. Hornblende-gneisses are usually darker in colour and less fissile than mica-gneisses; they contain more plagioclase, less orthoclase and microcline, and more sphene and epidote. Many of them are rich in hornblende and thus form transitions to amphibolites. Pyroxene-gneisses are less frequent but occur in many parts of both hemispheres. The " charnockite " series are very closely allied to the pyroxene-gneisses. Hypersthene and scapolite both may occur in these rocks and they are some-times garnetiferous.and its elements are 'so completely confused that the geologist can no longer disentangle them. When we remember that 'in the earlier stages of the earth's history, to which most gneisses belong, and in the relatively deep parts of the earth's crust, where they usually occur, there has been most igneous injection and greatest frequency of earth movements, it is not difficult to understand the geological distribution of gneissose rocks. All the factors which are required for their production, heat, movement, plutonic intrusions, contact alteration, interstitial moisture at high temperatures, are found at great depths and have acted most frequently and with greatest power on the older rock masses. But locally, where the conditions were favourable, the same processes may have gone on in comparatively recent times. Hence, though most gneisses are Archean, all gneisses are not necessarily so. (J. S. F.)
End of Article: GNEISS
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