Original Paper

Physics and Chemistry of Minerals

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 419-441

First online:

Cation substitution in synthetic meridianiite (MgSO4·11H2O) I: X-ray powder diffraction analysis of quenched polycrystalline aggregates

  • A. Dominic FortesAffiliated withDepartment of Earth Sciences, University College LondonCentre for Planetary Sciences, UCL/Birkbeck Email author 
  • , Frank BrowningAffiliated withDepartment of Earth Sciences, University College LondonCentre for Planetary Sciences, UCL/Birkbeck
  • , Ian G. WoodAffiliated withDepartment of Earth Sciences, University College LondonCentre for Planetary Sciences, UCL/Birkbeck

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Meridianiite, MgSO4·11H2O, is the most highly hydrated phase in the binary MgSO4–H2O system. Lower hydrates in the MgSO4–H2O system have end-member analogues containing alternative divalent metal cations (Ni2+, Zn2+, Mn2+, Cu2+, Fe2+, and Co2+) and exhibit extensive solid solution with MgSO4 and with one another, but no other undecahydrate is known. We have prepared aqueous MgSO4 solutions doped with these other cations in proportions up to and including the pure end-members. These liquids have been solidified into fine-grained polycrystalline blocks of metal sulfate hydrate + ice by rapid quenching in liquid nitrogen. The solid products have been characterised by X-ray powder diffraction, and the onset of partial melting has been quantified using a thermal probe. We have established that of the seven end-member metal sulfates studied, only MgSO4 forms an undecahydrate; ZnSO4 forms an orthorhombic heptahydrate (synthetic goslarite), MnSO4, FeSO4, and CoSO4 form monoclinic heptahydrates (syn. mallardite, melanterite, bieberite, respectively), and CuSO4 crystallises as the well-known triclinic pentahydrate (syn. chalcanthite). NiSO4 forms a new hydrate which has been indexed with a triclinic unit cell of dimensions a = 6.1275(1) Å, b = 6.8628(1) Å, c = 12.6318(2) Å, α = 92.904(2)°, β = 97.678(2)°, and γ = 96.618(2)°. The unit-cell volume of this crystal, V = 521.74(1) Å3, is consistent with it being an octahydrate, NiSO4·8H2O. Further analysis of doped specimens has shown that synthetic meridianiite is able to accommodate significant quantities of foreign cations in its structure; of the order 50 mol. % Co2+ or Mn2+, 20–30 mol. % Ni2+ or Zn2+, but less than 10 mol. % of Cu2+ or Fe2+. In three of the systems we examined, an ‘intermediate’ phase occurred that differed in hydration state both from the Mg-bearing meridianiite end-member and the pure dopant end-member hydrate. In the case of CuSO4, we observed a melanterite-structured heptahydrate at Cu/(Cu + Mg) = 0.5, which we identify as synthetic alpersite [(Mg0.5Cu0.5)SO4·7H2O)]. In the NiSO4- and ZnSO4-doped systems we characterised an entirely new hydrate which could also be identified to a lesser degree in the CuSO4- and the FeSO4-doped systems. The Ni-doped substance has been indexed with a monoclinic unit-cell of dimensions a = 6.7488(2) Å, b = 11.9613(4) Å, c = 14.6321(5) Å, and β = 95.047(3)°, systematic absences being indicative of space-group P21/c with Z = 4. The unit-cell volume, V = 1,176.59(5) Å3, is consistent with it being an enneahydrate [i.e. (Mg0.5Ni0.5)SO4·9H2O)]. Similarly, the new Zn-bearing enneahydrate has refined unit cell dimensions of a = 6.7555(3) Å, b = 11.9834(5) Å, c = 14.6666(8) Å, β = 95.020(4)°, V = 1,182.77(7) Å3, and the new Fe-bearing enneahydrate has refined unit cell dimensions of a = 6.7726(3) Å, b = 12.0077(3) Å, c = 14.6920(5) Å, β = 95.037(3)°, and V = 1,190.20(6) Å3. The observation that synthetic meridianiite can form in the presence of, and accommodate significant quantities of other ions increases the likelihood that this mineral will occur naturally on Mars—and elsewhere in the outer solar system—in metalliferous brines.


Meridianiite Undecahydrate Enneahydrate Octahydrate Cation substitution