Divya Saxena trains at NSF’s National Lacustrine Core Facility in UMN

Aug 8, 2017

Exploration, drilling, and coring of near- and sub- surface Earth materials is a conventional practice widely employed in all allied fields of Geo-sciences. The scientific technique of field acquisition of geologic material for research purpose involves meticulous planning and execution of an array of protocols to maximize recovery and make specific measurements while on board the drilling platform.

Geology PhD student Divya Saxena spent two weeks of her summer in Minneapolis, MN to train in continental scientific drilling and coring as part of National Science Foundation’s Drilling & Coring Summer program. Jointly coordinated by the Continental Scientific Drilling Coordination Office (CSDCO) and National Lacustrine Core Facility (LacCore) hosted by University of Minnesota, Divya was selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants to participate in the two-week comprehensive hands-on training program.

 “The continental scientific drilling consortium is a large entity that facilitates coring of lacustrine and related deposits in continental basins across the world with support from NSF, ICDP, CSDCO, and regional funding agencies. The primary role of the drilling coordination office is to offer integrated support to scientific parties in planning and coordinating their drilling projects by providing field equipment, instrumentation, man-power, core processing facilities, as well as core archival at LacCore’s repository” said Divya.

The training began with an overview of mission and functionalities of the continental drilling consortium and a walking tour of the core processing facilities and instruments housed at LacCore. Participants spend the next couple days doing field-work on Lake Gervais in Little Canada, MN, drilling through and catching (i.e. coring) Recent-Holocene age lacustrine deposits from two laterally co-relatable drill-sites.

“Our days on Lake Gervais started early and ended with a serene view of dusk over the rugged topography craved by the Laurentide Icesheet. We systematically cored the sediments using a variety of LacCore-customized drilling and coring tools that are specific to drilling depth and site characteristics” explains Divya. 

Field acquisition of material was followed by detailed laboratory analysis and initial core description which involves splitting the cores open, running the archival half of core through the Geotek Multisensor Core Logger (MSCL) for magnetic susceptibility measurements, high-resolution digital imaging, macroscopic lithological description, and initial correlation using digital programs. A stop on Lake Superior during a weekend trip to the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) facility at University of Minnesota – Duluth campus was a much-needed break from the hectic training schedule.

Besides training in continental drilling, participants visited the Fond du Lac Reservation of Native Americans and their Resource Management Center in Cloquet, MN to learn about the indigenous Ojibwe band, their wetland management practices, wild rice (Manoomin) cultivation, and consideration of wild rice as a sacred component in tribal cultural ceremonies as well as for healthy sustenance.

“Appreciating the history of tribal reservation in the region, ancient philosophies of the Ojibwe people, their dependence on the annual harvest of aquatic grass which is native to Great Lakes region, and understanding the interplay of geologic setting and historic Fe-mining in Mesabi Iron Range on Manoomin yield, was thoroughly insightful and an invaluable learning experience”, reports Divya. “Most importantly, I was inspired to see how the local tribal community has partnered with the scientific community in Minnesota to better understand factors, such as elevated sulfate concentration in lake waters, that adversely influence wild rice growth.” 

“Scientific pursuit doesn’t culminate at reporting findings and results in journals; new developments should have positive impact on societies and populations at large. Representatives from the Ojibwe band are actively advocating policy amendments based on research findings to limit unprecedented mining and waste dumping that releases sulfate into the environment which eventually finds its way to the lakes where wild rice grows.”

Saxena says that the training is instrumental in furthering her graduate career. She is empowered with new skills that she learned at LacCore’s exemplary summer training program and motivated from her interaction at Fond du Lac Resource Center. “I am driven to conduct impactful research that has a significant bearing on improving livelihood of humans with tangible results and policy changes.”

Clock-wise from top-left: (1) A section of sediment core from Lake Gervais with conspicuous annual laminations (light & dark bands). (2) Divya seen taking a Frost-bitter slab from one of the recovered cores. (3) Graduate students coring at Lake Gervais, Little Canada, MN. (4) PhD student Divya at Dead Fish Lake, Fond du Lac Reservation with incipient wild rice growth.