Evaluating carbonate dissolution and precipitation in a short time-frame using SEM: techniques and preliminary results from Postojna Cave, Slovenia
Keywords:rock tablets, carbonate dissolution, SEM, 3D microtopography, caves, karst
Carbonate dissolution and precipitation are important geological processes whose rates often require quantification. In natural settings, these processes may be taking place at a slow rate, and thus, it may not be easily visible which of these processes is occurring. Alternatively, if the effects of precipitation/dissolution are visible, it may not be clear if they are still underway or an artefact of past conditions. Moreover, these two opposing processes may flip states depending on the environmental conditions, such as, on a seasonal basis. Here, we present the technical details and preliminary results of a method using carbonate tablets and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) to evaluate which process (carbonate dissolution or precipitation) is occurring, using as an example, a cave environment. Our method involves making tablets by encasing blocks of carbonate rock into resin and polishing these to form a completely flat and smooth “zero surface”. These tablets are observed under SEM in exactly the same points both before and after exposure to the field environment, using a system of marking lines at specific locations on the resin. Our results show significant differences in the before and after images of the tablet surface after just six weeks in the cave. Furthermore, the use of the insoluble resin zero surface permits a comparison of the starting height with the new dissolved/precipitated surface that can be used to quantitatively estimate the rate of dissolution/precipitation happening at a field location in a relatively short time-frame (weeks/months). This method could be used in numerous natural and industrial settings to identify these processes that can be caused purely geochemically, but also through microbialmediation and physical weathering.
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