Satellite-derived mineral mapping and monitoring of weathering, deposition and erosion

Sci Rep. 2016 Mar 30:6:23702. doi: 10.1038/srep23702.


The Earth's surface comprises minerals diagnostic of weathering, deposition and erosion. The first continental-scale mineral maps generated from an imaging satellite with spectral bands designed to measure clays, quartz and other minerals were released in 2012 for Australia. Here we show how these satellite mineral maps improve our understanding of weathering, erosional and depositional processes in the context of changing weather, climate and tectonics. The clay composition map shows how kaolinite has developed over tectonically stable continental crust in response to deep weathering during northwardly migrating tropical conditions from 45 to 10 Ma. The same clay composition map, in combination with one sensitive to water content, enables the discrimination of illite from montmorillonite clays that typically develop in large depositional environments over thin (sinking) continental crust such as the Lake Eyre Basin. Cutting across these clay patterns are sandy deserts that developed <10 Ma and are well mapped using another satellite product sensitive to the particle size of silicate minerals. This product can also be used to measure temporal gains/losses of surface clay caused by periodic wind erosion (dust) and rainfall inundation (flood) events. The accuracy and information content of these satellite mineral maps are validated using published data.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.