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Vitrinite reflectance is used to assess the thermal maturation of a hydrocarbon source rock.
Vitrinite is a maceral — microscopic woody tissue, such as stems, bark, root and twigs — that is formed through the thermal alteration of lignin and cellulose in plant cell walls. Rocks buried at depth are subject to higher temperatures and, as this increases, vitrinite is altered through a process known as aromatisation, which increases its reflective properties.