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Fluorescence spectroscopy of ancient sedimentary organic matter via confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM)

December 17, 2021

Fluorescence spectroscopy via confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) was used to analyze ancient sedimentary organic matter, including Tasmanites microfossils in Devonian shale and Gloecapsomorpha prisca (G. prisca) in Ordovician kukersite from North American basins. We examined fluorescence emission as a function of excitation laser wavelength, sample orientation, and with respect to location within individual organic entities and along organic matter chemical transects. Results from spectral scans of the same field of view in Tasmanites with different laser lines showed progressive red-shift in emission maxima with longer excitation wavelengths. This result indicates steady-state Tasmanites fluorescence emission is an overlapping combination of emission from multiple distinct fluorophore functions. Stokes shift decreased with increasing excitation wavelength, further suggesting the presence of multiple fluorophore functions with different S1 -> S0 transition energies. This observation also indicates that at longer excitation wavelengths, less absorbed light energy is dissipated via collisional transfer than at shorter excitation wavelengths and may suggest fewer polar functions are preferentially absorbing. Confirming earlier results, emission spectra observed from high fluorescence intensity regions (fold apices) in individual Tasmanites are blue-shifted relative to emission from other locations in the same microfossil. We suggest high intensity emission is from photoselective alignment of polarized excitation with the fluorophore absorption and emission transition moment. The blue shift observed in regions of high intensity emission may be due to relative absence of polar species, e.g., bridging ether or ester functions, although this could not be confirmed with preliminary time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) analysis. Tasmanites occurring in consolidated sediments are flattened from original spherical morphology and, in optical microscopy, this burial deformation results in generally parallel extinction (strain-influenced) and positive elongation. The deformation also induces fluorescence anisotropy observed as variations in emission wavelength when samples are measured parallel to bedding, whereas this effect is absent in bedding-normal view. Evaluation of fluorescence emission on compositional transects from G. prisca-rich source layers into adjacent reservoir layers indicates decrease in fluorescence intensity and spectral red-shift (increase in full-width half-maximum with increasing red portion of the half-width). These results may suggest an increase in fluorescence quenching across the source-to-reservoir transition zone, consistent with an increase in aromaticity following petroleum expulsion and migration. These observations are supported by increasing reflectance values measured across similar micro-scale transects. Our results highlight the applicability of CLSM as a broad and under-utilized approach for the characterization of sedimentary organic matter and are discussed with perspective toward petroleum processes and thermal indices research.