Reflectance spectroscopy is a rapid and non-destructive method that can be used to detect organic compounds in geologic samples over a wide range of spatial scales that includes outcrops, hand samples, drill cores, and planetary surfaces. In order to assess the viability of this technique for quantification of organics and aliphatic compounds in particular, the present study examines how clay mineralogy, water content, and albedo influence the strength of organic absorptions in near-infrared (NIR) reflectance spectra. The effects of clay structure and water content are evaluated using kaolinite, smectite (montmorillonite), and a mixed-layer illite-smectite as starting materials. Absorption strengths for C–H absorptions are compared to known total organic carbon (TOC) values using both reflectance spectra and single scattering albedo (SSA) spectra derived from a Hapke radiative transfer model. A linear relationship was observed between band depth and TOC for each sample suite, but strong albedo variation led to non-unique trends when band depths were calculated from reflectance spectra. These effects were minimized by conversion to SSA, for which band depth-TOC trends were similar for all mixture suites regardless of albedo or hydration level, indicating that this approach may be more broadly applicable for clay and organic-bearing samples. Extrapolation of band depth-TOC trends for the synthetic mixtures suggested a very conservative lower limit of detection of <1 wt.% TOC, but preliminary results for natural organic-bearing shales indicated that detection limits may be an order of magnitude lower.

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