In order to better understand the microtextural changes associated with serpentinization reactions, natural millimeter-sized olivine grains were experimentally reacted with alkaline NaOH and NaHCO3 solutions at a temperature of 200 °C and for durations of 3 to 12 months. During hydration experiments, dissolution and precipitation were intimately correlated in time and space, with reaction products growing in situ, either as layered veins or as nearly continuous surface cover. In contrast, carbonation experiments showed a strong decoupling between both processes leading to essentially delocalized precipitation of the reaction products away from dissolution sites. Textural analyses of the samples using scanning electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and X-ray synchrotron microtomography provided experimental evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship between in situ precipitation and intracrystalline reaction-induced cracking in olivine. Juvenile cracks typically nucleated at the tip of dissolution notches or on diamond-shaped pores filled with reaction products, and propagated through the olivine crystal lattice during the course of the reaction. The occurrence of new cracks at the tip of diamond-shaped pores, but also of tiny subspherical pores lining up along microcracks, indicated that fracturation and porosity networks were mutually driven, making serpentinization an extremely efficient alteration process over time. Alternatively, our data suggested that some form of porosity also developed in absence of fracturation, thus further highlighting the remarkable efficiency and versatility of serpentinization processes.
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