Abstract

—Reflectance spectroscopy is a rapid, non-destructive technique capable of characterizing mineral and organic components within geologic materials at spatial scales that range from µm to km. The degree to which reflectance spectra can be used to provide quantitative information about organic compounds remains poorly understood, particularly for rocks with low organic content that are common in the Earth’s ancient rock record and that may be present on other planetary bodies, such as Mars. In the present study, reflectance spectra (0.35–25 µm) were acquired for a suite of Proterozoic shales and the kerogen was isolated to assess how spectral properties of aliphatic and aromatic C-H absorption bands can be used to predict organic matter abundance (total organic content, TOC, and H/C ratio). A number of spectral parameters were evaluated for organic absorption bands observed in the 3–4 µm wavelength region for comparison with independently measured TOC and H/C values. Ratios of the strengths of aliphatic to aromatic absorption bands were directly correlated to H/C values, but the reflectance spectra for pure kerogens with H/C < 0.2 lacked clear evidence for C-H absorption bands in this spectral region. Organic absorption bands are routinely observed for bulk rock powders with >1 wt.% TOC, but the detection limits of reflectance spectra for TOC may be <1 wt.% or as high as 10 wt.%. Organic detection limits for reflectance spectra are, thus, controlled by both TOC and H/C values, but these parameters can be predicted for clay-rich, kerogen-dominated samples for a range of values that are relevant to drill cores, outcrops, meteorites, and planetary surfaces.

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