Isothermal annealing of partially metamict zircon: evidence for a three-stage recovery process
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Raman spectroscopy and the powder diffraction technique have been used to monitor the recovery process of two partially metamict zircons (2.6 and 4.8 × 1018α-decays g−1) from Sri Lanka during a series of isothermal annealing experiments in the temperature range from 870 to 1622 K. These experiments show for the first time that structural recovery in partially metamict zircon proceeds via three distinct recovery stages, each of which occurs within a distinct time-temperature regime. Whereas the first two stages have previously been recognized (recovery of damaged crystalline remnants and epitaxial recrystallization), the third stage has not yet been identified as a single activated process. It is suggested that anisotropic defect annealing during the first stage at low temperatures, where the structure recovers preferentially along the a(b) plane, produces a geometrical situation where large structural rearrangements are necessary to remove the remaining defects inside the crystalline material. This situation is approximately reached when the amorphous domains start to recrystallize. The reason for anisotropic annealing can be found in a different connectivity between polyhedral linkages in both directions of the zircon lattice. High apparent activation energies, in the range of 6.4 to 7.9 eV, were determined for the third recovery stage from the Raman data, which are interpreted to reflect large structural rearrangements (i.e. polyhedral tilting) associated with the final recovery of the c axis. This explains the occurrence of a distinct recrystallization stage without defect annealing. Finally, it should be mentioned that the first recovery stage is not necessarily expected to occur in less damaged zircon crystals (<∼2 × 1018α-decays g−1), since less stable defects along the basal plane might have already been self-annealed during radiation damage accumulation under ambient temperatures.
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