Scanning Microscopy


Cation-ratio dating of rock varnish is a recently developed technique for obtaining surface exposure ages of a wide variety of geomorphic surfaces. As originally proposed, the technique utilizes a ratio among minor cations [(K+Ca)/Ti] in rock varnish. Although this varnish cation ratio is related to the Ti concentration, it can also be affected by the presence of Ba that may be partially included in the analyzed concentration of Ti. Barium is a minor constituent found in virtually all rock varnishes sampled from the Lake Mead area, Las Vegas Valley, and the Crater Flat region of southern Nevada. Barium is heterogeneously distributed in rock varnish, associated predominantly with Mn and secondarily with sulfur (detrital barite). Barium concentrations are apparently greater in varnishes found on young surfaces (< 100 ka) than in varnishes found on older surfaces (> 500 ka), and they are apparently greater in varnishes on low elevation surfaces than in varnishes on hill-slope or ridge deposits.

In energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), Ba Lα and Lβ peaks overlap with Ti Kα and Kβ peaks. Unless decomposed , the overlapping peaks may yield erroneously large values for Ti. We have compared the effect of Ba concentration on calculated varnish cation ratios using: (I) quantitative EDS with the scanning electron microscope (SEM) that decomposes Ti and Ba peaks; (2) quantitative wavelength-dispersive spectroscopy (WDS) with an electron probe microanalyzer (EPM); (3) semiquantitative EDS with the SEM that decomposes Ti and Ba peaks; and (4) semi-quantitative EDS with the SEM that does not decompose Ti and Ba lines. Results suggest small amounts of Ba relative to Ti will not significantly change the value of the calculated varnish cation ratio with or without decomposition. However, if Ba concentrations are high relative to Ti, the effect on cation ratios is pronounced, resulting in anomalously low cation ratios. As younger varnishes and varnishes on topographically lower surfaces apparently have higher Ba concentrations, the effect of Ba on cation ratios calculated for younger rock varnishes and lower surfaces will be greater.

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