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Within the field of geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...
, Bowen's reaction series
is the work of the petrologist, Norman L. Bowen
Norman Levi Bowen was born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada June 21, 1887 and died on September 11, 1956. Bowen "revolutionized experimental petrology and our understanding of mineral crystallization...
who was able to explain why certain types of mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...
s tend to be found together while others are almost never associated with one another. He experimented in the early 1900s with powdered rock material that was heated until it melted and then allowed to cool to a target temperature whereupon he observed the types of minerals that formed in the rocks produced. He repeated this process with progressively cooler temperatures and the results he obtained led him to formulate his reaction series which is still accepted today as the idealized progression of minerals produced by cooling magma
Magma is a mixture of molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and is expected to exist on other terrestrial planets. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and dissolved gas and sometimes also gas bubbles. Magma often collects in...
. Based upon Bowen's work, one can infer from the minerals present in a rock the relative conditions under which the material had formed.
The series is broken into two branches, the continuous and the discontinuous. The branch on the right is the continuous. The minerals at the top of the illustration (given aside) are first to crystallize and so the temperature gradient can be read to be from high to low with the high temperature minerals being on the top and the low temperature ones on the bottom. Since the surface of the Earth is a low temperature environment compared to the zones of rock formation, the chart also easily shows the stability of minerals with the ones at bottom being most stable and the ones at top being quickest to weather, known as the Goldich dissolution series
The Goldich dissolution series is a way of predicting the relative stability or weathering rate of various minerals on the Earth's surface. S. S. Goldich came up with the series in 1938 after studying soil profiles...
. This is because minerals are most stable in the conditions closest to those under which they had formed. Put simply, the high temperature minerals, the first ones to crystallize in a mass of magma, are most unstable at the Earth's surface and quickest to weather because the surface is most different from the conditions under which they were created. On the other hand, the low temperature minerals are much more stable because the conditions at the surface are much more similar to the conditions under which they formed.