Basalt melting point: wet vs dry

I had a student ask me this in class the other day; I thought about it, but I still can't work it out.

Many mineral and rock hydrates (take basalt, for instance) have much lower melting points than their anhydrous counterparts. I could not craft a plausible explanation for this.

I realize that hydrates have different crystal structures due to the presence of water, but I am unsure how this will affect the melting points. If anything, the possibility of hydrogen bonding would make the melting point higher, no?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Basalt is not a hydrate. :-( $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Jan 25, 2017 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the correction, but that still doesn't answer my question. See the hyperlink I edited in for the image. It refers to basalt as "wet" or "dry." $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2017 at 3:10
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Melting point depends on symmetry of the crystal structure. So you need data on structures. If the structure is symmetric the melting point will be higher. This many a times results in data which can't be explained on the basis of things like hydrogen bonding. It also depends on the surface area of the molecule $\endgroup$
    – Raghav
    Jan 25, 2017 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ masterorganicchemistry.com/2010/07/09/chemical-tetris Though this is about organic chemistry these concepts can safely be applied to inorganic. $\endgroup$
    – Raghav
    Jan 25, 2017 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ Melting of crystal hydrates is more like a dissolution in their own water. Then again, basalt (even if wet) is not a hydrate and may be a totally different story. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2017 at 6:42

1 Answer 1


It's been so long you probably won't even see this, but in case someone else is searching for an answer, here are some interesting answers I've found: (The websites are in French, so I tried to translate the intersting bits)

Igneous rock samples can be melted in the laboratory by heating them at elevated temperatures (1000 ° C to 1300 ° C). If one operates under pressure and in the presence of volatile elements, the melting temperature of the rock and its minerals is much lower (650 ° C to 950 ° C). It is known that magmas contain varying amounts of volatile elements that lower the melting point of many silicates, thus allowing the magma to remain liquid even at temperatures below those required to melt rocks in the laboratory. Indeed, the temperatures that exist in the different levels of the earth's crust are not sufficient to melt rocks in the absence of volatile elements. The main volatile elements found in magmas can be commonly observed in the gaseous state at the vents of active volcanoes. It is essentially water vapor, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine (in the form of acids) and many other gases [...].

Taken from http://www.fossiliraptor.be/rochesetphenomenesignes4.htm

In the case of hydrated paragneiss, during the warming of this rock, the melting begins as soon as it reaches the first reaction ((4) Qz + Ab + Gold + H2O ⇄ Liquid), around 650 ° C. Indeed, this gneiss contains all the reagents necessary for this reaction to take place. For a dry paragneiss, on the other hand, nothing happens on the curve corresponding to reaction 4; indeed, one of the reagents, water, is lacking. However, when the temperature exceeds 850 ° C, this rock crosses the curve corresponding to reaction 5 ((5) Bt + Ab + Qz + AlS ⇄ Liquid + Cord / Gt + KF, which can be decomposed as follows: (6) Bt + AlS ⇄ Gt / Cord + KF + H2O, then 7) Qz + Ab (Pg) + Gold (KF) + H2O ⇄ Liquid) and the two coupled reactions described above take place: the biotite decomposes to liberate water; therefore, we are in a situation where all the necessary products are present: the merger can take place. In other words, a hydrated system will melt (cross its solidus) at a lower temperature than a system without free water: the two reactions correspond respectively to "hydrate solidus" and "dry solidus"!

Taken from: https://planet-terre.ens-lyon.fr/article/reactions-de-fusion.xml#equation4

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It sounds like freezing point depression to me. But it's more complicated than that. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn
    Oct 27, 2019 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ The melting point of a pure element or chemical compound is the transition from one phase to another. Wet basalt is different: it can contain up to ~5% H2O, along with 2-3% alkali metal oxides and 45% silica. Under pressure, this could form a glass that flows; a viscous process, facilitated by the water, not a complete dissolution to a homogeneous phase. This glassy phase will flow when hot, but become much stiffer when the water is driven off and so seem to have a higher melting point when dry. $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2020 at 13:17

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