“Periodic table” for minerals: What has existed for chemical elements for a good 200 years is now also finding its way into mineralogy – a uniform nomenclature for name abbreviations. The list, which has already been approved by the International Mineralogical Association, gives all 5,744 known minerals a standardized abbreviation for the first time and lays down rules according to which new mineral names are abbreviated. This eliminates the previous “wild growth”, where there were up to eight abbreviations for the same mineral.
As far back as 1814, the chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius brought order to the elements in the previously chaotic jumble of symbols: He introduced a system of abbreviations made up of one or two letters that clearly identify each element. This nomenclature, which is over 200 years old, is still valid today and forms the basis of all chemical formulas – from H2O to (NH4)2SO4.
“Wild growth” in the mineral symbols
This is different in mineralogy, however: there most minerals have names that do not or only partially correspond to their chemical compound names. However, they are often of a similar length and complex, such as ammoniomagnesiovoltaite, galloplumbo gum or magnesio-ferri-fluoro-hornblende. In 1983, the Canadian mineralogist Ralph Kretz proposed a list of two- and three-letter abbreviations for the 192 most common rock-forming minerals, later these “Kretz symbols” were expanded to 374.
The problem, however, is that more than 5,700 minerals are now known and for the majority of them there were no uniform abbreviations. In addition, the Kretz symbols are more of a recommendation than a specification. “There has therefore been some wild growth of abbreviations in the mineralogical community,” explains Laurence Warr from the University of Greifswald. This means that there are eight different abbreviations even for common minerals such as kaolinite.
New abbreviations for 5,774 minerals
A new nomenclature for mineral abbreviations puts an end to this. Warr has drawn up a list of abbreviations that give a fixed abbreviation for all 5,774 currently recognized minerals and follow certain rules. These new standards have already been approved by the International Mineralogical Association – Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification (IMA-CNMNC) and henceforth specify how minerals are abbreviated.
“This step finally brings us a universally consistent system of standardized mineral symbols, comparable to the system that applies to the chemical elements,” says Warr. As in chemistry, all new mineral abbreviations in mineralogy will have to be approved by the International Mineralogical Association. The new nomenclature adopts most of the Kretz symbols that are already in use and adds 4.73 new abbreviations.
Abbreviations with a system
Unlike in the past, the abbreviations follow four rules that are intended to facilitate assignment and eliminate misunderstandings. So all symbols that are used in chemistry as element abbreviations have been replaced. The mineral pyrrhotite is now given the abbreviation Pyh because its old symbol PO stands for the element polonium in chemistry, which can lead to confusion.
At the same time, minerals with the same guiding element also have its abbreviation, if possible, in the new abbreviation. In chemistry, Bi stands for bismuth, in mineralogy it appears again in the abbreviations bis for bismite, bit for bismuthite and bin for bismuthinite. Frequently occurring mineral components such as calcite (Cal) or halite (Hl) are also retained in combination with other symbols. Pshl stands for pseudosinhalite. The P stands for pseudo, Shl for sinhalite and Hl for halite. (Mineralogical Magazine, 2021; doi: 10.1180/mgm.2021.43)
Source: University of Greifswald