Dr Jessica Trofimovs, Principal Research Scientist and Chris, a PhD student gave me a detailed tour of British Ocean Sediment Core Research Facility (BOSCORF) at the National Oceanography Centre on Wednesday 7 November. NOC houses the national archive of marine core samples. The raw core samples are kept in plastic tubes of the sort used for gas pipes. There are several diameter sizes. Long core samples are cut into shorter sections, capped at each end then carefully labelled and stored at 4-5 degrees Celsius – the average temperature of the seabed (freezing the core samples would cause the small, shelled life-forms (Foraminifer) to explode). The core samples are sliced in half length-wise. One half remains untouched as an archive sample; the other half is used for testing.
Visual inspection is recorded first, usually while on board the core sampling ship. The particle sizes, their dispersal and surface characteristics are noted using a credit card sized double-sided reference card (pictured). Silt is sifted through various grades of sieve, and a chart is completed recording the visible information. Back at BOSCORF the core is X-rayed to record the variance in density of the core layers providing a much more detailed image of the sediment layers than the eye can see. Other equipment takes an accurate colour reading and another, a magnetic scan, identifies magnetic materials such as ferrites. There is also a scanner that can identify elements such as copper and zinc. And behind a locked cage is equipment using radioisotopes. The logged data can be stored digitally and made available to the international scientific community. This information is displayed on a set of 6 monitors known as the CoreWall.