Evaporite Minerals and Halides

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Sodium borate
Evaporite Minerals and Halides. Photo courtesy Alisha Vargas of Flickr under Creative Commons License

Evaporite minerals are those that form by coming out of solution when seawater and the waters of large lakes evaporate. Rocks made of evaporite minerals are sedimentary rocks called evaporites. Halides are chemical compounds that involve the halogen (salt-forming) elements fluorine and chlorine. (The heavier halogens, bromine and iodine, make quite rare and insignificant minerals.) It's convenient to put all these together in this gallery because they tend to occur together in nature. Of the assortment in this gallery, the halides include halite, fluorite and sylvite. The other evaporite minerals here are either borates (borax and ulexite) or sulfates (gypsum).

Borax, Na2B4O5(OH)4·8H2O, occurs at the bottom of alkaline lakes. It is also sometimes called tincal.

Other Evaporitic Minerals

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Calcium fluoride
Evaporite Minerals and Halides. Photo (c) 2009 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Fluorite, calcium fluoride or CaF2 belongs to the halide mineral group. 

Fluorite isn't the most common halide -- common salt or halite takes that title -- but you'll find it in every rockhound's collection. Fluorite (be careful not to spell it "flourite") forms at shallow depths and relatively cool conditions. There, deep fluorine-bearing fluids, like the last juices of plutonic intrusions or the strong brines that deposit ores, invade sedimentary rocks with lots of calcium, like limestone. Thus fluorite is not an evaporite mineral.

Mineral collectors prize fluorite for its very wide range of colors, but it's best known for purple. It also often shows different fluorescent colors under ultraviolet light. And some fluorite specimens display thermoluminescence, emitting light as they are heated. No other mineral displays so many kinds of visual interest. Fluorite also occurs in several different crystal forms.

Every rockhound keeps a piece of fluorite handy because it's the standard for hardness four on the Mohs scale.

This is not a fluorite crystal, but a broken piece. Fluorite breaks cleanly along three different directions, yielding eight-sided stones -- that is, it has perfect octahedral cleavage. Usually, fluorite crystals are cubic like halite, but they can also be octahedral and other shapes. You can get a nice little cleavage fragment like this at any rock shop.

Other Diagenetic Minerals

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Calcium sulfate
Evaporite Minerals and Halides. Photo (c) 2008 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Gypsum is the most common evaporite mineral. Read more about it ​and other ​sulfate minerals.

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Sodium chloride
Evaporite Minerals and Halides. Photo by Piotr Sosnowski from Wikimedia Commons

Halite is sodium chloride, NaCl, the same mineral you use as table salt. It is the most common halide mineral. Read more about it.

Other Evaporitic Minerals

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Potassium chloride
Evaporite Minerals and Halides. Courtesy Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez via Wikimedia Commons

Sylvite, potassium chloride or KCl, is a halide. It's usually red but can also be white. It can be distinguished by its taste, which is sharper and more bitter than that of halite.

Other Evaporitic Minerals

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Alkali borate
Evaporite Minerals and Halides. Photo (c) 2009 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)

Ulexite combines calcium, sodium, water molecules, and boron in a complicated arrangement with the formula NaCaB5O6(OH)6∙5H2O. 

This evaporite mineral forms in alkali salt flats where the local water is rich in boron. It has a hardness of about two on the Mohs scale. In rock shops, cut slabs of ulexite like this one are commonly sold as "TV rocks." It consists of thin crystals that act like optical fibers, so if you place it on a paper, the printing appears projected on the upper surface. But if you look at the sides, the rock is not transparent at all.

This piece of ulexite comes from the Mojave Desert of California, where it is mined for many industrial uses. On the surface, ulexite takes the shape of soft-looking masses and is often called "cotton ball." It also occurs beneath the surface in veins similar to chrysotile, which features crystal fibers that run across the thickness of the vein. That's what this specimen is. Ulexite is named after the German man who discovered it, Georg Ludwig Ulex.

Other Evaporitic Minerals