Variations in the cathodoluminescent properties of carbonates are usually attributed to differing proportions of manganese (Mn2+) as the most important activator, and iron (Fe2+) as the main inhibitor of luminescence. Interactions between manganese and iron concentrations and the luminescent properties of dolomite are demonstrated by petrographic and chemical analyses of 86 samples of dolomite representing a range of depositional environments and ages (Cambrian to Cretaceous) and a wide geographical distribution (North America and Europe).
Iron and manganese are positively correlated in the dolomites, with the former showing a greater range of variation. Very small amounts of manganese are sufficient to activate the luminescence and as little as 100 ppm Mn2+ is present in highly luminescing samples. The intensity of luminescence is not proportional to the manganese concentration. Iron begins to quench luminescence as its concentration reaches 10,000 ppm. Above that level, luminescence is rapidly lost and total extinction occurs among samples containing more than 15,000 ppm Fe2+, regardless of the manganese concentration.