8.3 Magnetic susceptibility

We first encountered the concept of magnetic susceptibility in Chapter  1 and again in more detail in Chapters  ?? and  5. We defined it as the ratio of the induced magnetization to an inducing magnetic field or MI∕H. Because everything in a rock or mineral separate contributes to the magnetic susceptibility, it can be a fertile source of information on the composition of the sample. [For the same reasons, it can also be somewhat nightmarish to interpret on its own.] It is quick and easy to measure both in the field and in the laboratory; hence, magnetic susceptibility is used in a variety of ways in applied rock magnetism, including lithologic correlation, magnetic fabric, magnetic grain size/domain state, mineralogy and so on.


Figure 8.4: Measuring magnetic susceptibility. a) An alternating current applied in the coil on the right induces a current in the left-hand coil. This induces a magnetization in the specimen shown in b), which in turn offsets the current in the coil to the right. The offset is proportional to the magnetic susceptibility of the specimen. [Modified from Genevieve Tauxe animation at: magician.ucsd.edu/Lab_tour/movs/isosuscp.mov.]

It is worth thinking briefly about what controls magnetic susceptibility and what the data might mean. At an atomic level, magnetic susceptibility results from the response of electronic orbits and/or unpaired spins to an applied field (Chapter  3). The diamagnetic response (orbits) is extremely weak and unless a specimen, e.g., from some ocean sediments, is nearly pure carbonate or quartz, it can be neglected. The paramagnetic response of, say, biotite, is much stronger, but if there is any appreciable ferromagnetic material in the specimen, the response will be dominated by that. In highly magnetic minerals such as magnetite, the susceptibility is dominated by the shape anisotropy. For a uniformly magnetized particle (e.g., small SD magnetite), the maximum susceptibility is at a high angle to the easy axis, because the moments are already at saturation along the easy direction. So we have the somewhat paradoxical result that uniformly magnetized particles have maximum susceptibilities along the short axis of elongate grains. For vortex remanent state, or multi-domain particles and perhaps for strongly flowered grains, this would not be the case and the maximum susceptibility is along the particle length. Another perhaps non-intuitive behavior is for superparamagnetic particles whose response is quite large. We learned in Chapter  7 that it can be as much as 27 times larger than a single domain particle of the same size! Chains of particles may also have magnetic responses arising from inter-particle interaction. Therefore, although magnetic susceptibility is quick to measure, its interpretation may not be straight-forward.

8.3.1 Measurement of magnetic susceptibility

Many laboratories use equipment that works on the principle illustrated in Figure 8.4 whereby an alternating current is driven through the coil on the right inducing a current in the coil on the left. This alternating current generates a small alternating field (generally less than 1 mT) along the axis of the coil. When a specimen is placed in the coil (Figure 8.4b), the alternating current induces an alternating magnetic field in the specimen. This causes an offset in the alternating current in the coil on the right which is proportional to the induced magnetization. After calibration, this offset can then be cast in terms of magnetic susceptibility. If the specimen is placed in the solenoid in different orientations the anisotropy of the magnetic susceptibility can be determined, a topic which we defer to Chapter  13.


Figure 8.5: a) Schematic drawings of paramagnetic (solid line) and diamagnetic (dashed line) magnetic susceptibility as a function of temperature. b) Behavior of ferromagnetic susceptibility (solid line) as the material approaches its Curie temperature (Ms - T data shown as dashed line).

8.3.2 Temperature dependence

Susceptibility can be measured as a function of temperature by placing the specimen in a heating coil (see examples in Figure 8.5). We know from Chapter  3 that diamagnetism is negative and independent of temperature (dashed line in Figure 8.5a) and that paramagnetism is inversely proportional to temperature (solid line in Figure 8.5a). There is a difference of a factor of ln() or about 27 between the superparamagnetic and the stable single domain magnetic susceptibility for a given grain. This means that as the blocking temperatures of the magnetic grains in a particular specimen are reached, the susceptibility of the grain will increase by this factor until the Curie temperature is reached, at which point only paramagnetic susceptibility is exhibited and the susceptibility will drop inversely with temperature (solid line in Figure 8.5b). An SP peak in susceptibility below the Curie temperarure could explain the so-called Hopkinson effect which is a peak in magnetic susceptibility associated with the Curie temperature. The Hopkinson effect is frequently used to approximate Curie temperatures but may actually be related to unblocking in some specimens.


Figure 8.6: a) Magnetic susceptibility as a function of frequency. The decrease in frequency dependence of susceptibility with increasing frequency is caused by the superparamagnetic particles in the specimen. b) Plot showing temperature and frequency dependence of the same specimen as in a). [Data from Tiva Canyon Tuff, Carter-Stiglitz et al. 2006.]

8.3.3 Frequency dependence

Susceptibility can also be measured as a function frequency of the applied oscillating field. Superparamagnetic behavior depends on the time scale of observation (the choice of τ) so grains may behave superparamagnetically at one frequency, but not at another. Frequency dependent susceptibility χfd can therefore be used to constrain grain size/ domain state of magnetic materials. We illustrate this effect in Figure 8.6 which shows data gathered at the Institute for Rock Magnetism (IRM) on samples of the Tiva Canyon Tuff which are well known for their superparamagnetic/single domain grain size range (e.g., Schlinger et al., 1991).

In Figure 8.6a we show measurements made at room temperature. Because of the far greater magnetic susceptibility of superparamagnetic particles, χ drops with the loss of SP behavior. Magnetic grains that act superparamagnetically at 1 Hz, may behave as stable single domains at higher frequencies (remember that SP behavior depends on time scale of observation), hence the loss of magnetic susceptibility with increasing frequency in the Tiva Canyon Tuff specimens. While the magnetization drops with increasing frequency, it can rise with increasing temperature as described in Section 8.3.2. This behavior is shown in Figure 8.6b.


Figure 8.7: Map of magnetic susceptibility as a function of distance from the road. [Data from Hoffmann et al., 1999; Figure of M. Knab.]

8.3.4 Outcrop measurements

Although most laboratories make magnetic susceptibility measurements on small specimens, it is also possible to make measurements on core sections or even at the outcrop. The latter can be done with hand held susceptometers various shapes and sizes, depending on the application. We show a map made with a field device in Figure 8.7. Magnetic susceptibility is enhanced where magnetite spheres produced in the combustion of petroleum products are present as pollutants in dust particles. Therefore, magnetic susceptibility can be used as a tracer of industrial pollution (see, e.g., Petrovsky et al. 2000).