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Structural relaxation in silicate melts and non-Newtonian melt rheology in geologic processes


The timescale of structural relaxation in a silicate melt defines the transition from liquid (relaxed) to glassy (unrelaxed) behavior. Structural relaxation in silicate melts can be described by a relaxation time, τ, consistent with the observation that the timescales of both volume and shear relaxation are of the same order of magnitude. The onset of significantly unrelaxed behavior occurs 2 log10 units of time above τ. In the case of shear relaxation, the relaxation time can be quantified using the Maxwell relationship for a viscoelastic material; τS = ηS/G (where τS is the shear relaxation time, G is the shear modulus at infinite frequency and ηS is the zero frequency shear viscosity). The value of G known for SiO2 and several other silicate glasses. The shear modulus, G , and the bulk modulus, K , are similar in magnitude for every glass, with both moduli being relatively insensitive to changes in temperature and composition. In contrast, the shear viscosity of silicate melts ranges over at least ten orders of magnitude, with composition at fixed temperature, and with temperature at fixed composition. Therefore, relative to ηS, G may be considered a constant (independent of composition and temperature) and the value of ηS, the relaxation time, may be estimated directly for the large number of silicate melts for which the shear viscosity is known.

For silicate melts, the relaxation times calculated from the Maxwell relationship agree well with available data for the onset of the frequency-dependence (dispersion) of acoustic velocities, the onset of non-Newtonian viscosities, the scan-rate dependence of the calorimetric glass transition, with the timescale of an oxygen diffusive jump and with the Si-O bond exchange frequency obtained from 29Si NMR studies.

Using data obtained over a range of frequencies and strain-rates we illustrate the significance of relaxed versus unrelaxed behavior in laboratory experiments on silicate melts. Similarly, using strain-rate estimates for magmatic processes we evaluate the significance of the liquid-glass transition in igneous petrogenesis.

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Dedicated to the memory of Chris Scarfe

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Dingwell, D.B., Webb, S.L. Structural relaxation in silicate melts and non-Newtonian melt rheology in geologic processes. Phys Chem Minerals 16, 508–516 (1989).

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  • Silicate
  • Relaxation Time
  • Shear Viscosity
  • Bulk Modulus
  • Structural Relaxation