Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Nicolas Perdrial


The weathering of apatite is the foundation of the phosphorus cycle and essential to life, yet little is known about the nanoscale mechanisms driving apatite weathering. Deciphering nanoscale dissolution in apatite is a significant step to understand phosphate weathering behavior, that was key to the development of life. Determining what controls apatite weathering can impact many areas of environmental and medical mineralogy such as dentistry, contaminant scavenging, geochronology, and paleoenvironment studies. The aim of this study was to characterize apatite dissolution across scales with an emphasis on the nanoscale mechanisms. Recent research on the weathering of silicate minerals at the nanoscale has provided telling evidence of a relatively new chemical weathering model referred to as coupled interfacial dissolution-precipitation (CIDR) mechanism. We hypothesize that this mechanism could be broadened to phosphate minerals.

To investigate crystals of Durango fluorapatite (FAP) and hydroxyl-chlorapatite (HAP) were hydrolyzed in flow-through devices with pH 3 HNO3 solutions. Apatites used in the study were chemically and structurally characterized via Single Crystal-XRD, with particular emphasis on the anion composition and atomic arrangement. Determination of the mechanisms of dissolution was carried at multiple scales using ICP-OES chemical analysis (macroscale), SEM (microscale) and STEM-HAADF-EDS/EELS on FIB liftouts (nanoscale).

At the macroscale, The anionic composition of the apatite controlled its weathering rate. As expected, HAP dissolution occurred at faster rates compared to FAP. SEM characterization of the crystal surfaces pre- and post-dissolution revealed the development of etch pits during dissolution, however, more pronounced for FAP than HAP. Observation of the mineral/solution interface at the nanoscale using STEM-HAADF revealed the development of a nanometric amorphous layer likely depleted in Ca compared to P.

The observation of a sharp crystalline/amorphous transition and 5 to 15 nanometers thick amorphous surface altered layer, associated with a depletion in Ca suggests that similar to silicate, apatite is subject to a coupled interfacial dissolution-reprecipitation mechanism. This potential discovery could transform our understanding of phosphate behavior in medical and environmental mineralogy fields.



Number of Pages

78 p.

Included in

Geochemistry Commons