Spectral variations in rocks and soils containing ferric iron hydroxide and(or) sulfate minerals as seen by AVIRIS and laboratory spectroscopy

Open-File Report 2004-1431




Analysis of Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) data covering the Big Rock Candy Mountain area of the Marysvale volcanic field, west-central Utah, identified abundant rocks and soils bearing jarosite, goethite, and chlorite associated with volcanic rocks altered to propylitic grade during the Miocene (2321 Ma). Propylitically-altered rocks rich in pyrite associated with the relict feeder zones of convecting, shallow hydrothermal systems are currently undergoing supergene oxidation to natrojarosite, kaolinite, and gypsum. Goethite coatings are forming at the expense of jarosite where most pyrite has been consumed through oxidation in alluvium derived from pyrite-bearing zones. Spectral variations in the goethite-bearing rocks that resemble variations found in reference library samples of goethites of varying grain size were observed in the AVIRIS data. Rocks outside of the feeder zones have relatively low pyrite content and are characterized by chlorite, epidote, and calcite, with local copper-bearing quartz-calcite veins. Iron-bearing minerals in these rocks are weathering directly to goethite. Laboratory spectral analyses were applied to samples of iron-bearing rock outcrops and alluvium collected from the area to determine the accuracy of the AVIRIS-based mineral identification. The accuracy of the iron mineral identification results obtained by analysis of the AVIRIS data was confirmed. In general, the AVIRIS analysis results were accurate in identifying medium-grained goethite, coarse-grained goethite, medium- to coarse-grained goethite with trace jarosite, and mixtures of goethite and jarosite. However, rock fragments from alluvial areas identified as thin coatings of goethite with the AVIRIS data were found to consist mainly of medium- to coarse-grained goethite based on spectral characteristics in the visible and near-infrared. To determine if goethite abundance contributed to the spectral variations observed in goethite-bearing rocks with AVIRIS data, a laboratory experiment was performed in which spectra were acquired of a goethite-bearing rock while progressively decreasing the areal abundance of the rock with respect to a background of white, fine-grained quartz sand. This experiment found that, with decreasing material abundance, the crystal field absorption feature of goethite near 1.0 micron decreases in depth and narrows more from the long wavelength side of the feature than from the short wavelength side, as is the case in goethite reference spectra as grain size decreases from coarse to fine. In the Marysvale study area, goethite-bearing alluvium downgradient from source outcrops tends to be identified as finer-grained or thin coatings of goethite due to the minerals presence in lesser abundance. The goethite-bearing alluvium is a closer match to reference spectra of thin coatings of goethite even though the actual grain size of the contained goethite fragments is medium to coarse grained, the same on average as that from the source outcrops. Coarser-grained goethite most likely will be correctly identified in areas of greater goethite abundance proximal to jarosite-bearing source rock where the surface is relatively free of goethite-free soil components and vegetation that corrupt the goethite spectral response. When analysis of imaging spectroscopy data is performed using reference spectra of iron minerals of varying grain sizes and mixed compositions, the results are useful not only for purposes of mineral identification, but also for distinguishing goethite-bearing outcrop from alluvial surfaces with similar mineralogy, providing valuable information for geologic, geomorphologic, mineral exploration, and environmental assessment studies.

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USGS Numbered Series
Spectral variations in rocks and soils containing ferric iron hydroxide and(or) sulfate minerals as seen by AVIRIS and laboratory spectroscopy
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0
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24 p.