Phonolite is a rare extrusive volcanic rock of intermediate chemical composition between felsic and mafic, with texture ranging from aphanitic (fine-grain) to porphyritic (mixed fine- and coarse-grain).
The name phonolite comes from the Greek meaning (more or less) "sounding stone" because of the metallic sound it produces if an unfractured plate is hit; hence the English name clinkstone.
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Unusually, phonolite forms from magma with a relatively low silica content, generated by low degrees of partial melting (less than 10%) of highly aluminous rocks of the lower crust such as tonalite, monzonite and metamorphic rocks. Melting of such rocks to a very low degree promotes the liberation of aluminium, potassium, sodium and calcium via melting of feldspar, with some involvement of mafic minerals. Because the rock is silica undersaturated, it has no quartz or other silica crystals, and is dominated by low-silica feldspathoid minerals more than feldspar minerals.
A few geological processes and tectonic events can melt the necessary precursor rocks to form phonolite. These include intracontinental hotspot volcanism, such as may form above mantle plumes covered by thick continental crust. A-type granites and alkaline igneous provinces usually occur alongside phonolites. Low-degree partial melting of underplates of granitic material in collisional orogenic belts may also produce phonolites.
Mineral assemblages in phonolite occurrences are usually abundant feldspathoids (nepheline, sodalite, hauyne, leucite and analcite) and alkali feldspar (sanidine, anorthoclase or orthoclase), and rare sodic plagioclase. Biotite, sodium rich amphiboles and pyroxenes along with iron rich olivine are common minor minerals. Accessory phases include titanite, apatite, corundum, zircon, magnetite and ilmenite.
Nepheline syenites and phonolites occur widely distributed throughout the world in Canada, Norway, Greenland, Sweden, the Ural Mountains, the Pyrenees, Italy, Eifel in Germany, Brazil, the Transvaal region, the Magnet Cove igneous complex of Arkansas, the Beemerville Complex of New Jersey, as well as on oceanic islands such as the Canary Islands.
- Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA, a striking example of columnar jointed phonolite
- Dunedin, New Zealand
- Bořeň, northwestern Czech Republic
- Hoodoo Mountain, northwestern British Columbia, Canada
- Jebel Nefusa, Libya
- Teide, a stratovolcano on the island of Tenerife
- Mont Gerbier de Jonc South East France
- The phonolitic lava lake in Mount Erebus, Ross Island, Antarctica
Phonolites can be of interest as dimension stone or as aggregate for gravels.
Rarely, economically mineralised phonolite-nepheline syenite alkaline complexes can be associated with rare earth mineralisation, uranium mineralisation and phosphates, such as at Phalaborwa, South Africa.
Phonolites can be separated into slabs of appropriate dimensions to be used as roofing tiles in place of roofing slate. One such occurrence is in the French Massif Central region such as the Haute Loire département.
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