Interpretational challenges related to studies of chalk particle surfaces in scanning and transmission electron microscopy

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Scanning and transmission electron microscopy (SEM and TEM) are capable of characterising the morphology and structure of sub-micron size substances attached to chalk particle surfaces. Some characteristics, however, may originate from sample preparation or reflect interaction between sample and the electron beam. Misinterpretation of surface features may lead to wrong conclusions regarding grain surface properties and cementation level and thus to erroneous characterisation of hydrocarbon reservoirs with respect to e.g. wettability, mechanical strength and maximum burial depth. In SEM, conductive coatings may mask surface details or generate artificial ornamentations, and carbon adhesive discs may cause the chalk surface to be covered with a thin carbon film. Electron beam acceleration voltage controls the degree of detail revealed by the electron beam, but in SEM a high electron beam acceleration voltage may provoke bending or curling of ultrathin particles. Recent organic filaments may be confused with clay flakes, and authigenic non-carbonate minerals may have formed in the pore fluid and settled during fluid removal. In TEM, the high acceleration voltage may cause beam damage to calcite and transform the outermost atomic layers into Ca oxide. Thin graphite membranes observed by TEM may be contamination from the carbon film supporting the sample, and overlapping chalk particles in samples formed by drying of a suspension may give the impression of being cemented together. In TEM residual adhesive from the ion-milling process can be confused with cementation features.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of Denmark
Pages (from-to)151-165
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Scanning electron microscopy
  • Transmission electron microscopy
  • Chalk
  • Surface coating
  • Surface ornamentation
  • Image interpretation


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