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Tracing Carbonate Form, Serpentinization, and Bio Materials With Micro-, Meso-Scale IR Img Spectro in a Mars Analog

Visible-shortwave infrared (VSWIR) imaging spectrometers map composition remotely with spatial context, typically at many meters-scale from orbital and airborne data. Here, we evaluate VSWIR imaging spectroscopy capabilities at centimeters to sub-millimeter scale at the Samail Ophiolite, Oman, where mafic and ultramafic lithologies and their alteration products, including serpentine and carbonates, are exposed in a semi-arid environment, analogous to similar mineral associations observed from Mars orbit that will be explored by the Mars-2020 rover.

At outcrop and hand specimen scales, VSWIR spectroscopy (a) identifies cross-cutting veins of calcite, dolomite, magnesite, serpentine, and chlorite that record pathways and time-order of multiple alteration events of changing fluid composition; (b) detects small-scale, partially altered remnant pyroxenes and localized epidote and prehnite that indicate protolith composition and temperatures and pressures of multiple generations of faulting and alteration, respectively; and (c) discriminates between spectrally similar carbonate and serpentine phases and carbonate solid solutions. In natural magnesite veins, minor amounts of ferrous iron can appear similar to olivine’s strong 1-μm absorption, though no olivine is present.

We also find that mineral identification for carbonate and serpentine in mixtures with each other is strongly scale- and texture-dependent; ∼40 area% dolomite in mm-scale veins at one serpentinite outcrop and ∼18 area% serpentine in a calcite-rich travertine outcrop are not discriminated until spatial scales of <∼1–2 cm/pixel. We found biological materials, for example bacterial mats versus vascular plants, are differentiated using wavelengths <1 μm while shortwave infrared wavelengths >1 μm are required to identify most organic materials and distinguish most mineral phases.


Ellen K. Leask, Bethany L. Ehlmann, Rebecca N. Greenberger, Patrick Pinet, Yves Daydou, Georges Ceuleneer, Peter Kelemen

Published in:

Earth and Space Science, Volume 8, Issue 11, November 2021


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