Arctic environments provide a challenging ground for geological mapping and mineral exploration. Inaccessibility complicates ground surveys and the presence of ice, vegetation, and lichens hinders supportive remote sensing surveys. Spectral mixing of lichens and bare rock can shift the wavelength position of characteristic absorption features, thereby complicating the spectral mapping of minerals and lithologies. The extent to which diagnostic rock features are preserved despite the presence of lichens is of major concern in remotely sensed geological studies and estimates of the critical level of lichen coverage, below which spectral features of the mineral substrate can still be identified, are needed. We investigated how surficial lichen cover affects the characteristics of shortwave infrared (SWIR) mineral absorption features and the efficacy of automated absorption feature extraction. For this purpose, mixed spectra were synthetically generated from laboratory spectra of common rock forming SWIR absorbing minerals and lichens. Wavelength displacements of characteristic absorption features for each mixed spectrum were then analyzed as a function of percentage lichen cover. Distinctive trends were identified that can be used in future analysis: The strong spectral features of mica group minerals around 2200 and 2340–2350 nm maintain their integrity for up to 30% lichen cover, despite the related shift toward shorter wavelengths for higher percentage lichen cover. In contrast, very weak absorption bands around 2440 nm in (white) micas spectra are completely obscured for a lichen cover of ≥ 50%. Our observations suggest that the chlorite feature around 2250 nm is shifted toward longer wavelengths and the depth of this feature as well as the contrast between lichen and substrate spectra define the amount of lichen needed to mask it. Furthermore, lichens induce a spectral shift towards shorter wavelengths for the features around 2320 nm for the rocks containing amphibole, chlorite, carbonate and serpentine group minerals. In addition, no wavelength displacement is observed for chlorite, biotite and phlogopite features around 2380 nm in mixtures with lichens. By quantifying lichen cover effects on mineral absorption features, our study highlights the importance of being precautious in any interpretation in areas characterized by abundant lichen-covered outcrops. This can be of significant importance for mineral and deposit vectoring as the presence of abundant lichen coverage causing slightly shifted features for a given spectra can be erroneously identified as a path to a deposit.
- Programområde 4: Mineralske råstoffer