The identification of minerals from caves generally requires that samples be removed from the cave for analysis in the laboratory. The usual tools are X-ray powder diffraction, the optical microscope, and the scanning electron microscope. X-ray diffraction gives a definitive fingerprint by which the mineral can be identified by comparison with a catalog of reference patterns. However, samples must be ground to powder and unstable hydrated minerals may decompose before analysis is complete. Raman spectroscopy also provides a fingerprint useful for mineral identification but with the additional advantage that some a-priori interpretation of the spectra is possible (distinguishing carbonates from sulfates, for example). Because excitation of the spectra is by means of a laser beam, it is possible to measure the spectra of samples in sealed glass containers, thus preserving unstable samples. Because laser beams can be focused, spectra can be obtained from individual grains. New technology has reduced the size of the instrument and also the sensitivity of the optical system to vibration and transport so that a portable instrument has become possible. The sampling probe is linked to the spectrometer by optical fibers so that large specimens can be examined without damage. Comparative spectra of common cave minerals demonstrate the value of Raman spectra as an identification technique.



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