“Contamination” is simply the process of making some material undesirably impure. Every day, we hear the term used to describe a wide range of adverse changes, including the degradation of water by industrial pollutants, the effects of foreign bacteria on food, fungal growth or asbestos in buildings, and the presence of depleted uranium in zones of military conflict. In whatever context contamination takes place, an originally pure system must be open to the influx of foreign materials, be they physical, chemical, or biological.

In igneous petrology, the originally pure system is normally a silicate magma. Open-system contamination of this magma...

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