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What Is Latite?

Andrew Kirmayer
Andrew Kirmayer

Latite is a volcanic rock that can be gray, yellow, pink, or white. A variety of minerals are often contained within the rock. It typically has very little if any quartz; the content is usually less than 5% in the pure form, while a similar rock called monzonite can consist of 10% or more of quartz. An igneous rock, latite usually forms from hot, fluid material called magma deep within the Earth.

Sometimes the rock can surface during a volcanic eruption, or it can remain below the surface with lava that remains underground. Intrusive rocks from magma can get exposed over time with surface erosion. Latite is sometimes discovered in these types of deposits. The minerals in the rock are often identified using a visual analysis of the rock’s minerals, which is often done by comparing their texture to scientific charts; a chemical analysis can also be performed to confirm the nature of the rock.

Latite can surface during a volcanic eruption.
Latite can surface during a volcanic eruption.

Feldspar, olivine, and pyroxene are common minerals seen in latite. If the rock does contain quartz, then generally there is no olivine contained within it. Other common volcanic rocks include basalt and andesite; latite was originally identified in the late 1800s to define its similarity to rocks found in Italy. The feldspar in latite is usually present as large crystals, while feldspar and another mineral called augite make up a finer matrix of material.

Latite can form where tectonic plates spread out at long ridges below the oceans.
Latite can form where tectonic plates spread out at long ridges below the oceans.

Latite can form in the various places igneous rocks do, including where tectonic plates spread out at long ridges below the oceans. It also typically forms at subduction zones where one plate gets pushed below another, as well as where the Earth’s outer crust gets pushed together. Pressure and heat often alter rock formations in these locations. One characteristic typically seen in this rock is the presence of large crystals of minerals. Large grains of these are called phenocrysts; a rock that has these is referred to as a porphyry.

Latite typically forms from magma.
Latite typically forms from magma.

Common igneous rocks include basalt, which typically forms under the oceans, and granite, found on land. Latite is generally found on land and is common in the western part of North America. While several different minerals are common to it, the actual content of each rock can vary, and there can be a variety of textures as well. The rock can be analyzed using several scientific methods, and small samples viewed under a microscope, with polarized light, is one way of viewing individual crystals within a sample.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is latite and how does it form?

Latite is a type of igneous rock that forms from volcanic activity, specifically from the cooling and solidification of magma or lava. It is intermediate in composition between rhyolite and andesite, containing a mix of minerals such as plagioclase feldspar, biotite, hornblende, and pyroxene. Its formation is typically associated with subduction zones where oceanic plates dive beneath continental plates.

Where can latite be commonly found?

Latite is commonly found in regions with a history of volcanic activity, especially near convergent plate boundaries. Notable locations include the western United States, particularly in states like Colorado and Nevada, as well as in various parts of Italy and New Zealand. These areas have the geological conditions that favor the formation of latite and other related igneous rocks.

What distinguishes latite from other igneous rocks?

Latite is distinguished from other igneous rocks by its mineral composition and texture. It has an intermediate silica content, falling between felsic rocks like granite and rhyolite, and mafic rocks like basalt and gabbro. This gives latite a unique set of physical properties, including its color and grain size, which can range from aphanitic (fine-grained) to porphyritic (larger crystals in a fine matrix).

How is latite used in construction or industry?

Latite is valued in construction and industry for its durability and aesthetic appeal. It can be used as a building stone for facades, tiles, and other architectural elements. Its resistance to weathering makes it suitable for outdoor applications. Additionally, crushed latite is sometimes used in road construction and as an aggregate in concrete, providing strength and stability.

Can latite tell us anything about past volcanic activity?

Yes, latite can provide valuable insights into past volcanic activity. By studying its mineral composition and the conditions under which it formed, geologists can infer details about the magma's source, the depth of crystallization, and the tectonic setting. This information helps reconstruct the volcanic history of a region and contributes to our understanding of Earth's geological past.

Is latite considered a rare type of rock?

Latite is not considered a rare type of rock, but it is less common than some other igneous rocks like basalt or granite. Its occurrence is largely dependent on specific geological conditions that are not as widespread as those that produce more common rock types. However, in areas with the right volcanic history, latite can be relatively abundant.

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    • Latite can surface during a volcanic eruption.
      By: R. Sueswit Apriliant
      Latite can surface during a volcanic eruption.
    • Latite can form where tectonic plates spread out at long ridges below the oceans.
      Latite can form where tectonic plates spread out at long ridges below the oceans.
    • Latite typically forms from magma.
      By: kmiragaya
      Latite typically forms from magma.