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    Solid earth sciences


    Natural moissanite (SiC) – a low temperature mineral formed from highly fractionated ultra-reducing COH-fluids

    Schmidt M W, Gao C, Golubkova A, Rohrbach A, Connolly J A D

    Moissanite, SiC, Ultra-reducing, Iron silicides and carbides, COH-fluid, Fluid-fractionation

    BSE images of run products from (a) experiment G#2 (1500°C, 2GPa) and (b) experiment G#6 (1700°C, 10GPa).

    Natural moissanite (SiC) is reported from dozens of localities, most commonly from ultramafic rocks where it may be associated with diamond and iron silicides. Yet, formation conditions of moissanite remain in the realm of speculation. The key property of SiC is its extremely reduced nature. We have experimentally equilibrated SiC with olivine and orthopyroxene at 1300-1700°C, 2 and 10 GPa, to determine the oxygen fugacity of the C + orthopyroxene = SiC + olivine + O2 buffer (MOOC) and the equilibrium XMg of coexisting mantle silicates. The experiments resulted in olivine and orthopyroxene with XMg of 0.993-0.998 in equilibrium with SiC and iron silicides. Calculated oxygen fugacities are 5-6.5 log units below the iron-wustite (IW) buffer at 2-10 GPa. The experimental results concur with calculated phase relations for harzburgitic mantle under reducing conditions that include metal alloys, carbides and silicides. The extremely reducing character of SiC precludes coexistence with silicates with appreciable Fe2+, and hence excludes equilibrium with mantle phases with typical XMg’s of ~0.9. Calculated Fe-Mg diffusion lengths reveal that SiC grains of 1 mm would react with the Fe-component of olivine to iron carbide or metal and orthopyroxene within >1 Ma at temperatures above 800°C. We thus conclude that SiC forms through a low-temperature process (>700-800°C) where equilibrium is only reached at the grain scale. The most plausible formation mechanism is a strong fractionation of a C-O-H fluid from metamorphosed sediments originally rich in organic material. Such a fluid is initially saturated with graphite or diamond and is slightly more reduced than the H2O-C join. Fluid percolation in the mantle leads to H2O-sequestration by crystallizing hydrous phases (most likely serpentine, brucite or phase A), and hence O2-removal from the fluid causing its reduction and continuous graphite or diamond precipitation. A small, highly fractionated fluid fraction may then reach CH4 and H2 concentrations that allow SiC formation on grain boundaries without equilibration with the bulk rock on a larger scale. Such a mechanism is corroborated by the strongly negative δ13C of moissanites (-20 to -37), consistent with reduced fluids originating from metamorphosed organic carbon.