Lake sediment mineralogy and component analysis presents many new challenges to the student because it is a non-traditional problem for which neither books on marine minerals nor textbooks on thin section analysis offer much consolation.  On the other hand, we can lean on the experience common to ocean sediments to develop a scheme and classification.

Lakes differ greatly from marine systems because of the many local factors that enter the picture and the closer links with the landscape geology and drainage basin.  Lakes may vary greatly in chemistry determined by bedrock geology and hydrology, and may range over five orders of magnitute in total dissolved solids.  Thus, a wide range of authigenic and evaporite minerals and components may be encountered that never enter the marine equation.  Carbonates for example are typically inorganic (although bio-induced) precipitates in lakes, whereas almost all carbonate in the ocean is biogenic.  Dolomite, siderite, and exotic Fe-Mn carbonates can occur in a number of lacustrine settings, but are rare in marine sediments.  Amorphous silica precipitation may be quite common in alkaline lakes, although it is a unique oddity in marine environments.  Biogenic and organic matter may be very abundant, and comprise any number of sources.

The following is a guide to optical determination of the major components that make up lake sediments.  It is intended for working with smear slides (SM) or coarse fraction (CF) microscopy utilizing a petrographic microscope.  The student is typically confronted with a spread of very fine grained particles and clumps, of which very few seem familiar in any way.  It is intimidating.  Be  confident.  With a few tips, study, and careful, systematic observations it soon becomes possible to generate most paleoenvironmental interpretations directly in the initial microscopic study.  Surprisingly, even the eyeball estimates of percentages to 5% become rather consistent.  The important step is to understand the likely genetic relationships among components and follow a systematic scheme of checks and elimination for sleuthing the clues to determinations and significance.  Fear and loathing often arise today because only a very few  geology students ever learn principles of optical mineralogy and crystallography anymore.  Yet the microscope is the most powerful sediment tool, although much more dificult to use than a microprobe, x-ray diffraction, or isotope instrument.

Smear slide determinations derive from the practice of sediment petrography in the 1920s when heavy minerals were studied as grain mounts from sandstones to correlate oil well stratigraphy before micropaleontology.  In the 1960s marine geologists discovered that even very fine-grained clays could be determined from simple smears on an object slide imbedded with Canada Balsam (RI=1.54).  With the advent of Deep Sea Drilling (1968), shipboard smear slide analyses with visual percentage estimates have become the mainstay tool of marine core descriptions.  Environmental concerns with the production of carcinogenic artificial resins such as CAEDEX (artifical Canada Balsam) added a major setback, but today a number of epoxy cements, such as NORLAND Optical Cement (RI=1.55-1.56) provide mounting media with stable strain-free optical properties.

Smear slides offer a cheap, powerful, rapid analytical tool to identify components and origins of lake sediment.  They also offer a quick semi-quantitative measure of relative changes in components in a lithostratigraphic section.

There has never been a satisfactory manual for smear slide descriptions of lake sediments.  This is a first attempt.  I have been meaning to launch this effort since 1973 when during my first trip with DSDP I thought I was the only one on the Glomar Challenger who had never seen a smear slide.  After meeting several famous colleagues also sneaking into the lab at 4 a.m. to review the shabby collection of marine examples, I eventually was relieved to discover that my prior schooling with titans of Teutonic mineralogy  had eminently qualified me to become a smear-slide expert.  We still hark back to the basic bibles such as Kerr, Optical Mineralogy (1959); or Tröger, Optische Bistimmung der Mineralien mit Tabellen(1967) but these only present classic fundamentals.  So now with the advent of Website education I can pursue a manual of direct experience with lake sediments with the assurance that all mistakes are erased with a click, and others can complete the task once started.

Kerry Kelts, LRC Core Facility, January 1998

Thanks to inspiration and the role model of Rothwell, R.G., 1989, Minerals and Mineraloids in Marine Sediments:  an optical identification guide.  Elsevier, London,  279pp.

Note:  This is a work in progress.  Rather than wait until it is perfect we have opted to publish what we have thus far and add/subtract and edit as time permits.  Please e-mail any comments, suggestions or corrections to


Smear Slides

Geologists are accustomed to petrographic study of rocks in thin sections where polishing the minerals to uniform (30mm) thickness allows a precise comparison of the birefringence as a major tool of identifications.  Smear slides of lacustrine muds have a large range of particle thicknesses from the 2 micron clays to sand-size quartz, and thus present an unfamiliar spectrum of birefringence behavior.  This complicates things.  However, thickness can be estimated and tricks of refractive indices substitute as clues to mineralogy.  Some minerals create confusion with special habits, such as micas that are commonly laying with the C-axis vertical, and thus show pseudo-isotropy in smear-slides rather than the rich pleochroism common in thin-sections.  The range of authigenic minerals is equally unfamiliar to a standard petrographer.

For the study of LAKE SEDIMENTS we must make clear distinctions of the component origins within obvious genetic catagories.  For this book we treat separately:

A)  Authigenic, neo-formed, and diagenetic minerals and components formed within the lake environment
B)  Biogenic components such as shells, frustules, or  parts of the organisms dwelling in the catchment or aquatic system
C)  Clastic and terrigenous components:  the minerals transported in from the landscape
D)  Organic matter as a special case of biogenic components that can be differentiated as terrigenous or aquatic sourced; pollen, charcoal, coal, algal OM, bacterial sheaths, or other
E)  Components treated separately because of their significance, such as volcanic ash and tephra, or because they cannot be identified such as many opaque grains and micro-nodules.  Other examples might derive from hydrothermal sources, or even cosmogenic particles.

Basically  A-B-C can be plotted in a simple ternary diagram to provide poplulation clustering needed to guide sediment classifications.  Keep in mind that the same mineralogy may occur in each of these.  For example, aragonite may be washed into a lake from ancient limestones, marginal mudflats or travertine terraces, and also be precipitated in the open waters from plankton productivity, as well as forming the major mineral of a near-shore gastropod hash, or even precipate in organic rich sediments as a diagenetic product of sulfate reduction.

The investigator needs to approach the description of smear slides with some kind of a standard check-list and scheme including percentage estimates that will allow an efficient noting of data.  Different lakes will present different components so that it is most useful to modify check-lists to suit particular problems: example check list.

The first step is to make an educated guess on the TEXTURE of the sediment (grain size distribution), mainly focusing on the non-biogenic fraction.  Be careful to make a scan of the whole slide because smear slides commonly have coarser particles concentrated in a zone because of surface tension created while drying on a hot plate.


The preparation of good smear slides is an easy art.  Because of varying grain size, a good smear is not just uniform but has patches where finer minerals are dispersed and larger ones grouped.  Large sand grains create some problems.  A small spatula or toothpick of sediment is dispersed usually in a few drops of calgon water, acetone, or alcohol on a microscope slide.  You can also smear on the cover glass if you are very slick, careful, precise, and want all components on the same optical plane for viewing at higher magnification.  The smear should be just barely transparent when dry, not too thick.  Practice determines how much to swirl to get good particle separation, avoiding clumps of clay or organics.

The slide is labeled and dried on low heat (~60°C) with a hot plate.

A drop or two of Norland optical cement is dropped on the clean cover glass (or clean slide if a cover slip smear), and the cover glass placed on the warm, dry, smear.  Avoid any possibility of contaminating the optical cement reservoir.  Keep amounts to a minimum to just barely cover all the grains.  You can adjust, spread, and press down with one or two pencil erasers.

The slide with cover glass and optical cement is placed under a strong ultraviolet-fluorescent lamp for 2-3 minutes to cure.  The cement polymerizes quickly to a permanent mount under cold UV.

It is now ready for examination.  Keep in mind that the slide may have picked up some tricky contaminants such as microshreds of the toothpick (high birefringent fragment), cigarette ash (looks like a zeolite with holes), cloth threads (analine colors), or hair strands (shimmers).

General Microscopy


Overview scans of smear slides at low power can provide estimates of grain size distribution.  It is important to calibrate your eye to both the micrometer scale (usually a table posted at each microscope) and a sense of percentage diagrams.  Note textural characteristics:  well-sorted, poorly-sorted, bimodal,  fragmented, whole, low matrix, etc.


Because these are particle slides, much of the space may be empty, and must be adjusted for (i.e. subtracted out) in the estimates.  Ideally component percentages are given in terms of mass percents, rather than percent of slide covered (e.g. point-counts), although this requires an extra mental step.  Multiplication of the area or volume estimate by the component's approximate specific gravity (e.g. 1 for organics, 2.7 for quartz or calcite, 5 for pyrite) allows for cross-checking with analytical weight abundances from carbon coulometry, loss-on-ignition, biogenic silica measurement, etc., and iterative refinement of the investigator's eye.


Granular, equigranular, prismatic, micritic, rod-shaped, acicular, rice, sprays, needles, spheroidal, anhedral, polyhedral, euhedral, platelets, cubes, rhombs, vesicular, ragged, fibrous, aggregate, cruiciform, bipyramidal, lenticular, framboid, twinned, perlitic, pinacoidal, pseudomorph, tabular, vermicular, angular, rounded, subangular, conchoidal, pitted, coated, clear, polished, frosted, shard, vitreous . . .

Optical Characteristics for Microscope Determinations

If a mineral shows primary crystal faces (typically authigenic or diagenetic) it may be possible to assign it to a characteristic crystal class:  cubic, orthorhombic (aragonite), trigonal (quartz, calcite), tetragonal (rutile), or monoclinic (K-feldspars) and triclinic (plagioclase).  Primary faces are rare so that more commonly lines belong to cleavage or twinning characteristics.  The way a mineral breaks (cleavage) can be very telling.  Quartz for example is distinctive in that it has no preferred cleavage or twinning orientation, whereas feldspars that look similar to quartz almost always do.

Most microscopic minerals are colorless, but some have characteristic color or are opaque due to carbon or Fe/Mn, e.g. pyrite.  Iron oxides glow faint red.  Altered and weathered minerals (feldspars) and glasses commonly are fuzzy, and brown or yellow or clear.  Some heavy minerals, pyroxenes, amphiboles, apatite, zircon, are characteristic greenish, bluish, or yellow.

Note for many minerals the RI changes with crystallographic orientation.
Quartz and the mounting medium NORLAND provide standards of comparison (usually 1.544 and 1.555).  Minerals are easily classified as above or below the medium using the BECKE Line.  The rule is:  From the position of grain focus, as the tube is raised, the Becke Line migrates into the higher RI component.  For very fine particles, you can slide in the quartz wedge until near the particle.  Imagine the sun is shining from the opposite side.  If the particle has RI lower than the media, it will appear as a pit, with the shadowed side toward the "sun."

Prominence of the mineral depends on the relative contrast of the RI with the media.  Small quartz grains for example are hard to even see unless under crossed-nicols there are flakes of low bf.

Rays traveling through crystals will create color because of splitting as a function of crystal directions and refractive index differences.  The color charts are calibrated for 30 micron thin-sections, but still function as relative guides.  Typically carbonates stand out with very high bf.  Feldspars are lower than quartz, also low.  Micas generally show high dispersion, but in fact will appear very low to isotropic because of their crystal habit to lie with 001 vertical.  Heavy minerals may have high bf and strong color, usually associated with iron.  Silica (diatoms) and glasses are of course isotropic.

Crystal structure will determine if minerals show characteristic extinction under crossed-nicols polarization and usually at a specific angle or parallel with the long axis.  Isotropic minerals will remain dark.  If grains are anhedral or highly rounded, the extinction angles will simply occur at 90° and not tell much except that the mineral is not isotropic.

Some minerals such as micas or amphiboles have different color hues depending on crystal angle under polarization.  Dispersion is a property of high bf and RI such that the mineral does not go extinct under crossed-nicols.  Typical for example of hematite.

Many igneous and metamorphic minerals will have small characteristic inclusions or accessory minerals (e.g. zircon in micas).  In lakes, these would generally indicate clastics except in the cases of evaporite salts.

Dominant 40-100%
Abundant <  40%
Common <  25%
Rare <   5%
Trace <   1%


Carbonate Minerals

Calcite is the most common authigenic precipitate in low concentration lakes.  Water is commonly driven to calcite supersaturation by the productivity of phytoplankton or picoplankton (Kelts and Hsu, 1978).   Marine calcite is predominantly biogenic, whereas lake chalk (calcite) is almost entirely dominated by inorganic precipitation of mineral phases, although bacterially- or plankton-mediated.

Authigenic calcite from pelagic rain may be quite uniform blocky polyhedra in a narrow size range (typically  8-30µm), or else a fine uniform micrite (< 5µm).

Authigenic calcite is anhedral, micritic aggregates, to subhedral-blocky polyhedral.  With increasing magnesium, more prismatic forms appear.  Variable, mod. high RI=1.486-1.658, lower than dolomite,  weak twinkling, extreme bf 0.172, pastel shades of yellow to green, trigonal, perfect cleavage but rare in authigenic crystals, extinction parallel elongation and cleavage.


Aragonite in lakes almost always a surface water precipitate.  Typically occurs as acicular neddles to rice-like, thin prisms, commonly about 10µm.  Transparent, colorless, mod RI=1.530-1.686, like calcite directional, extreme bf in high order pastel yellow, gray, white, orthorhombic.  Aragonite generally represents a lake of higher concentration and Mg/Ca molar ratios >5-12.

Biogenic shell forms - more prismatic, some curved, more commonly sand-sized.  Often show growth striations.  Lakes do not have the Pteropod aragonite oozes common in marine marginal basins, nor the coccolith-foram chalks of the pelagic realm.



Manganese carbonates

Pisoliths, onchoids, oncholiths

Sulfide Minerals:  pyrite, greigite, mackinawite, pyrrhotite
Reducing freshwater lake sediments commonly convert low sulfate concentrations into a series of unstable monosulfides that are amorphous to opaque < 1µm.  These will oxidize quickly upon exposure to air and thus rarely occur in smear slides except as coatings.  Greigite, Fe2S3, the sulfide spinel, is magnetic, and will form as microconcretions.
Pyrite is relatively uncommon in freshwater sediments, but can be very common with greater salinities, commonly occuring as round framboid aggregates, or in cases as single small opaque cubes.  These may show up better under strong reflected illumination, eg with a fiber optic lamp.

Fe/Mn Nodules
Opaques form a continuum of Fe-Mn oxides and hydroxides from flakes, micronodules, coatings, crusts, to concretions.  Many micronodules show tiny spheroid aggregates of prisms, and appear suggestive of bacterial mediation.  Sizes range greatly, but fine silt is common (4-10µm).  They are generally thought to form in a suboxic redox gradient where Fe and Mn are mobile in reducing zones, then precipitate when hitting oxic conditions.  Commonly this is the sediment/water interface.

Hydrated iron oxides commonly coat grains, or occur as irregular, microlitic to amorphous flakes, or as small translucent to opaque yellow-brown grains.

Some very small (1-5µm) magnetite grains and chains occur as euhedral octahedra, opaque, grown by magnetotactic bacteria in the sediment.

Authigenic, blue color, stellate habit.  Crystals prismatic, often in stellate groups, or renniform and globular.

Clay Minerals
Authigenic fibrous, magnesian clay minerals of sepiolite and palygorskite may form in alkaline saline lakes.

Alkaline lakes may alter volcanic glass quickly to zeolites, or even authigenic albite and K-feldspars.

Zeoloites, clinoptilolite and phillipsite, are prismatic euhedral to ragged, usually transparent and colorless, with low RI=1.480-1.486, and v. weak bf anisotropic, monoclinic,
Phillipsite usually better formed stubby prisms, some cruciform twinned.  Clinoptilolite favored by higher Si/Al.

Fish debris, coatings, vivianite (FePO4.10 H2O)

Opal C-T, chert


Lakes do not have forams, although some species may survive if introduced into coastal lakes or paralic basins with near sea water salinities, for example the late Pleistocene Carpenteria shelf.  Similarly  pteropod aragonitic gastropods and calcite discoasters are unknown in lakes.

Coccoliths do not occur in non-marine basins although distant cousins in the green algae family may generate a calcareous test of calcite platelets (eg. Phacotus).  These are very rare in sediments.

Ostracods are the common calcite microfossil of lakes.  They are small (30-2000µm) ovate to kidney shaped, bivalve crustaceans, commonly with ornamentation.  Most are benthic.  An animal may molt up to 8 times, forming a shell within a few hours to days.  Male and female valves can be distinguished, as well as juvenile instars and adult specimens.  Ostracods are powerful environmental indicators with species very sensitive to water chemistry, the shells containing trace metals, Mg, Sr, Ba, etc, in ratios to the water chemistry, and the calcite to Mg-calcite shells archiving stable isotopic compositions.  Species level identifications are difficult, but genus groups can be recognized:

In smear slides ostracod shells are commonly broken, and lie flat.  The punctate surface is visible along with solid rims.  The calcite appears surprisingly low birefringent because C-axes tend to be perpendicular to shell walls, which are also very thin (< 5µm).  In fact, the fragments resemble cigarette ash flakes.

Molluscs, Gastropods



Siliceous Microfossils

Radiolaria (siliceous zooplankton) and silicoflagellates (siliceous algae) are unknown in lakes.

Diatoms, Bacillariophyceae (Phylum Chrysophyta), siliceous algae, however, are very common as both benthic and pelagic forms.  Lake diatoms tend to be more delicate than their marine cousins.  The opaline test or frustule is secreted as two halves of a pill-box.  They have common punctae in highly diverse forms, in ridges aligned.  Most are 10-100µm, with a great variety of shapes.

Two Major Groups:

Centric diatoms (Centrales):  spherical, circular, oblong, triangular, or cylindrical with radial or concentric symmetry.
Pennate diatoms (Pennales):  spindle, rod, wedge-shaped, bilateral symmetry about a medial line.

Most planktic are centric, most benthic are pennate.

Sponge Spicules
Sponges occur in many lakes, not in abundance.  Sponge spicules are exclusively silica in lakes as minute skeletal elements to stiffen sponge tissue.  They are always a minor component, but stand out due to their shape and relief.  Spicules occur as needle-like or stellate forms, often with a central canule.  Names derive from number of rays:  monaxon, tetraxon, etc.  They may range up to a few mm size.

Fish Debris
Fish contribute mainly phosphatic debris of bones, teeth (ichthyoliths), vertebrae, and scales to lake sediment, although rare calcitic fish otoliths are important sources of isotopic information.  Generally they are in low concentration, but in rare cases (e.g. L. Edward, E. Africa) may form 5% of the sediment.  Fish debris may provide important archives of strontium isotopic information.

Pollen and Spores
Pollen counts are usually done on samples concentrated by destruction of carbonate and silicate fractions.  In normal smear slides from lake sediment pollen and spore grains may be common enough to describe.   Spores may be trilete or monolete, and pollen grains saccate, subspheroidal, oblate, pentagonal, rod-shaped, vesiculate, or irregular, etc.


Quartz is almost always clastic in lake deposits unless in the form of chalcedony in some cherts from alkaline lakes.  Often the dominant component of sand sizes.  Aeolian grains may be frosted or coated with hematite.  Distinguished from similar-looking feldspars by lack of cleavage, lack of twinning, conchoidal fracture.

Well-rounded to angular, conchoidal fracture, no cleavage, very rare euhedral.  Inclusions or clear, wavy extinction from metamorphism, transparent.  Low relief, n (1.533-1.544), weak bf (0.009), first order gray and white, trigonal , // extinct.

Ubiquitous clastic mineral, less common than quartz.  Feldspars are commonly monoclinic K-fels (orthoclase, microcline, sanidine) or triclinic plagioclase varieties (Na-albite, oligoclase, andesine, labradorite, Ca-bytownite).

Grains are commonly subhedral, tabular to rounded, with characteristic good double clevage and twinning.  Colorless to cloudy due to alterations, except sanidine.  Variable RI = 1.51-1.54 K-fels, 1.53-1.59 plag;  weak bf 0.005-0.011, extinction angle diagnostic of composition, depends on axis.  Albite twin can determine composition with M.-Levy method.

Carbonate Minerals
Ancient limestones may be calcitic or dolomitic and deliver a variety of carbonate component types as clastic components.  These are generally very irregular anhedral to subhedral grains of highly varied sorting, often rounded or flaky chips.  It may be difficult to recognize the difference in a mixture with authigenic calcite.

Dolomite is a common clastic mineral in lakes in the silt to sand size if the terrain has the right geology of dolomitic limestones.  Authigenic dolomite may occur around salt lakes but is almost always micritic, < 5 µm.

Clastic grains may show well-shaped cleavage rhombs.  RI changes strongly with direction:  1.500-1.526 (below quartz) and 1.680-1.710 ( distinctly >quartz).  Higher RI than calcite, twinkling common, extreme bf 0.180-0.190, high order yellow to white, trigonal, perfect rhombic cleavage, extinction symmetric to cleavage.

Micas are sheet silicates, almost always detrital from igneous and metamorphics and may comprise a mixture of chlorite (greenish), biotite (yellow to greenish), or muscovite (clear).  Usually occur as ragged flakes, larger than associated grains, commonly with some crystal edges.  Very fine muscovite and the clay mineral illite are nearly identical.
May be confused with fish debris.
o Low  to moderate relief, varies, RI 1.55 (mus)-1.638 (bio), perfect basal cleavage 001
o Monoclinic, some alteration possible, pleochroic, extinction // 001

Iron Oxides
Non-opaque iron oxides are also common as clastics, such as red hematite or yellow hydrated goethite.  Occur as irregular, translucent, flakes, scales, and aggregates, commonly < 4µm, extremely high relief (2.95), high bf, and dispersive.  Ilmenite and detrital magnetite are opaque, sometime shimmering bluish, usually blocky rounded.

Heavy Minerals
Heavy Minerals are commonly a ubiquitous accessory in clastics larger than 30µm, and may be concentrated for study with heavy liquid separations.  Usually they are very rare or trace minerals of varied mineralogy and commonly volcanic or plutonic in origin.  Most are high relief, high density minerals.  Some of the most common are:

Amphiboles:  green, prismatic, extinction * //, ragged cleavage

Apatite:  euhedral, prismatic, egg, transparent, RI 1.630-1.655, weak bf 0.003, low order gray,  hexagonal, // extinct

Epidote:  prismatic subhedra, RI 1.720-1.763, mod. strong bf  0.014-0.045, monoclinic, perfect cleavage, pleochroic, // extinct, yellowish hue

Monazite:  short prism, yellow transparent, v. high RI= 1.78-1.849, strong bf, dispersive, monoclinic, perfect cleavage, small extinction angle

Rutile: prismatic needles, transparent yellow to reddish, v. high RI= 2.603-2.903, extreme bf 0.286, tetragonal

Sphene:  small diamond subhedra, colorless to brown-yellow, v. high RI= 1.887-2.054, v. strong bf 0.092-0.141, total reflection, strong dispersion

Zircon:  equant prisms, transparent, to faint yellow, v. high RI=1.925, strong bf, tetragonal, inclusions, // extinct

Pyroxenes:  chain structure ferro-magnesian silicate family, transparent pale to yellow to green, mod high RI 1.650-1.731, mod. bf, etching common, monoclinic and ortho, cleavage//,  straight extinction ortho, 6°-50° clino-, similar to amphiboles in smear slides.

Opaques  (including pyrite, magnetite, ilmenite, ores, sphalerite, galena, gold, platinum, graphite)

Clay Minerals
Most clay minerals in lakes are clastic-detrital, derived from the weathering of catchment as a function of geology and climate.  Cold temperate crystalline terrains deliver more illite and chlorite, more weathering adds smectites and mixed layer clays, whereas kaolinite is more common in well-drained warmer latitudes.

Most are < 4µm, requiring high power objectives of 60-100x; low bf flakes.  The refractive indices with the Becke line can distinguish chlorite and illite ( >1.54) from low RI smectite.  Clay aggregates may show a dispersion or even polarization at first order color.

Gypsum and anhydrite may be encountered in lake sediments either as clastic or authigenic components.  In smear slides they are more commonly reworked or redeposited so are treated here.

Crystals are euhedral to subhedral tabular of simple habit and platy cleavage fragments.  Irregular anhedra are less common.  Cleavage will produce rhombic fragments, that may show etching along edges.
Grains are colorless, transparent, although commonly clouded with occluded clay or brine.  Low RI= 1.520-1.529, weak bf 0.009 low order, similar to quartz, but usually darker because thinner.  Monoclinic, three cleavages, extinction // to 010 cleavage, twins common swallowtail, polysynthetic

In hypersaline lakes, gypsum may precipate in the surface water and usually settles as thin prismatic mono-crystals, clear, colorless, and with bipyramids.

A serious problem is the gypsum, often fibrous, that grows during cold-storage of cores from salt lakes.

Anhydrite grains in lakes are commonly clastic, and distinguished from gypsum mainly by a higher RI because of the less water in the crystal lattice.  1.570-1.614, and higher bf 0.044 with bright color.


Terrestrial Plant Fragments, Pollen, Peat
Plant material in smear slides may include pollen and fragments of brown lignified wood fracments, translucent plant fibers, fibrous rootlet fragments, and black carbonized debris or charcoal.  Size may be very variable within one slide.  Darker fragments will be more likely reworked.  Plant debris may be mixed up with opaques, but commonly is more irregular, or may even reveal cellularity.

Charcoal, Coal
Charcoal fragments may derive from grass fires, with distinctive cellular shaped cuticles, or forest fires which supply either fine background soot, or larger particles in the proximal regions.  Large charcoal particles may be indistinguishable from coal fragments weathered from bedrock geology and transported as clastics into the lake.  In reflected light, however, coal fragments will usually shine more than charcoal grains, reflecting their carbon maturity.

Aquatic Plant Macrofossils, Amorphous Aquatic Organic Matter, Algae, Bacteria
Amorphous organic matter in smear slides us usually counted as an algal or bacterial component.  Under a fluorescence microscope organic matter may reveal characteristic structure in the amorphous fraction that corresponds to some types of green, lipid-rich algae such as Botryococcus.


Volcanic Glass
Lakes may be subject to air-fall tephras such as the Mazama Ash (6800 BP 14Cyrs) that function as important marker beds.  They may receive weathered and altered volcanic grains as a component of the clastic mineral spectrum.  Clastic grains will generally be more rounded and altered, often with coatings.  Hyaloclastites are also common if eruptions are subaqueous.

Glass shard ashes in lakes tend to be from more acidic explosive volcanism, andesites-rhyolites-alkali.   Basalt volcanoes however may easily sputter significant amounts of glass into a lake system.
Shards are recognized as lunate, bubble-walled, or fragments of highly-vesicular to fibrous glass.  Typical air fall ashes may be well sorted in coarse silt ranges, with some rare scattered feldspars or even pyroxenes.

Glasses are isotropic, clear, and have low RI = 1.46-1.62.  RI is a direct measure of composition, becoming more basaltic at higher values.  Basaltic glasses will also tend to be darker, more bubbly and less vesicular.  RI=1.50 is 78% silica.  Fresh glass is isotropic, but alteration may instill interference effects.

Alteration is common.  Volcanic glass is inherently unstable and begins soon to devitrify, quicker for lower silica values.  Hydration leads to cloudiness, and microcrystals may form.  A version of yellowish-cloudy  hydrated glass with pristine grain shape is called palagonite.

High sedimentation rates in lakes make it very difficult to expect to find concentrations of extraterrestrial components, microtektites, or cosmic spherules.  Nevertheless they are possible as spheroid to oval glassy grains, commonly with pitting or fractures.