DIABASE, in petrology, a rock which is a weathered form of dolerite. It was long widely accepted that the pre-Tertiary rocks of this group differed from their Tertiary and Recent representatives in certain essential respects, but this is now admitted to be untenable, and the differences are known to be merely the result of the longer exposure to decomposition, pressure and shearing, which the older rocks have experienced. Their olivine tends to become serpentinized; their augite changes to chlorite and uralite; their felspars are clouded by formation of zeolites, calcite, sericite and epidote. The rocks acquire a green colour (from the development of chlorite, uralite and epidote); hence the older name of "greenstones," which is now little used. Many of them become somewhat schistose from pressure ("greenstone-schists," meta-diabase, etc.). Although the original definition of the group can no longer be justified, the name is so well established in current usage that it can hardly be discarded. The terms diabase and dolerite are employed really to designate distinct facies of the same set of rocks.
The minerals of diabase are the same as those of dolerite, viz. olivine, augite, and plagioclase felspar, with subordinate quantities of hornblende, biotite, iron oxides and apatite.
There are olivine-diabases and diabases without olivine; quartz-diabases, analcite-diabases (or teschenites) and hornblende diabases (or proterobases). Hypersthene (or bronzite) is characteristic of another group. Many of them are ophitic, especially those which contain olivine, but others are intersertal, like the intersertal dolerites. The last include most quartz-diabases, hypersthene-diabases and the rocks which have been described as tholeites. Porphyritic structure appears in the diabase-porphyrites, some of which are highly vesicular and contain remains of an abundant fine-grained or partly glassy ground-mass (diabas-mandelstein, amygdaloidal diabase). The somewhat ill-defined spilites are regarded by many as modifications of diabase-porphyrite. In the intersertal and porphyrite diabases, fresh or devitrified glassy base is not infrequent. It is especially conspicuous in some tholeites (hyalo-tholeites) and in weisselbergites. These rocks consist of augite and plagioclase, with little or no olivine, on a brown, vitreous, interstitial matrix. Devitrified forms of tachylyte (sordawilite, etc.) occur at the rapidly chilled margins of dolerite sills and dikes, and fine-grained spotted rocks with large spherulites of grey or greenish felspar, and branching growths of brownish-green augite (variolites).
To nearly every variety in composition and structure presented by the diabases, a counterpart can be found among the Tertiary dolerites. In the older rocks, however, certain minerals are more common than in the newer. Hornblende, mostly of pale green colours and somewhat fibrous habit, is very frequent in diabase; it is in most cases secondary after pyroxene, and is then known as uralite; often it forms pseudomorphs which retain the shape of the original augite. Where diabases have been crushed or sheared, hornblende readily develops at the expense of pyroxene, sometimes replacing it completely. In the later stages of alteration the amphibole becomes compact and well crystallized; the rocks consist of green hornblende and plagioclase felspar, and are then generally known as epidiorites or amphibolites. At the same time a schistose structure is produced. But transition forms are very common, having more or less of the augite remaining, surrounded by newly formed hornblende which at first is rather fibrous and tends to spread outwards through the surrounding felspar. Chlorite also is abundant both in sheared and unsheared diabases, and with it calcite may make its appearance, or the lime set free from the augite may combine with the titanium of the iron oxide and with silica to form incrustations or borders of sphene around the original crystals of ilmenite. Epidote is another secondary lime-bearing mineral which results from the decomposition of the soda lime felspars and the pyroxenes. Many diabases, especially those of the teschenite sub-group, are filled with zeolites.
Diabases are exceedingly abundant among the older rocks of all parts of the globe. Popular names for them are "whinstone," "greenstone," "toadstone" and "trap." They form excellent road-mending stones and are much quarried for this purpose, being tough, durable and resistant to wear, so long as they are not extremely decomposed. Many of them are to be preferred to the fresher dolerites as being less brittle. The quality of the Cornish greenstones appears to have been distinctly improved by a smaller amount of recrystallization where they have been heated by contact with intrusive masses of granite.
(J. S. F.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)