Aragonite is a carbonate mineral, one of the two common, naturally occurring, crystal forms of calcium carbonate, CaCO3 (the other form being the mineral calcite). It is formed by biological and physical processes, including precipitation from marine and freshwater environments.
Aragonite’s crystal lattice differs from that of calcite, resulting in a different crystal shape, an orthorhombic system with acicular crystals. Repeated twinning results in pseudo-hexagonal forms. Aragonite may be columnar or fibrous, occasionally in branching stalactitic forms called flos-ferri (“flowers of iron”) from their association with the ores at the Carinthian iron mines.
Aragonite is thermodynamically unstable at standard temperature and pressure, and tends to alter to calcite on scales of 107 to 108 years. The mineral vaterite, also known as μ-CaCO3, is another phase of calcium carbonate that is metastable at ambient conditions typical of Earth’s surface, and decomposes even more readily than aragonite.
Aragonite forms naturally in almost all mollusk shells, and as the calcareous endoskeleton of warm- and cold-water corals (Scleractinia). Several serpulids have aragonitic tubes. Because the mineral deposition in mollusk shells is strongly biologically controlled, some crystal forms are distinctively different from those of inorganic aragonite. In some mollusks, the entire shell is aragonite; in others, aragonite forms only discrete parts of a bimineralic shell (aragonite plus calcite). Aragonite also forms in the ocean and in caves as inorganic precipitates called marine cements and speleothems, respectively. The nacreous layer of the aragonite fossil shells of some extinct ammonites forms an iridescent material called ammolite.
Aragonite is metastable and is thus commonly replaced by calcite in fossils. Aragonite older than the Carboniferous is essentially unknown. It can also be synthesized by adding a calcium chloride solution to a sodium carbonate solution at temperatures above 70 °C or in water-ethanol mixtures at ambient temperatures.