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Palynology Laboratory

In this lab, we specialize in extracting pollen palynomorphs from geologic field samples. We also assist our center's scientists with outreach programs to educate students and inform policy makers as to the importance of our science. 

In the Field

Scientists collect cores on the Savannah River, December 2012
Scientists collect cores on the Savannah River. (Public domain.)

Core collecting is often strenuous and time consuming, requiring a small team to perform the work successfully and in a timely manner. Our lab technicians and student interns often assist in the field to collect sediment core samples, using a variety of field gear and coring equipment, depending on the depositional environment and the type of information researchers after. Types of coring equipment we commonly use include Russian corers and vibracorers. Each core is measured, photographed and described in our field log for later reference. Finally, each core section is carefully wrapped to prevent contamination and for safe transportation to our lab.


Lab technician holds up a pollen residue vial to a light.
A pollen laboratory technician holds up a pollen residue vial to the light. This sample was collected from the Great Dismal Swamp, VA. (Credit: Diana Carriker. USGS. Public domain.)

In the Lab

Once the cores are delivered to the lab, they are cataloged, cleaned, photographed, and cut into 1-cm intervals. These are then weighed, dried, and subsampled for pollen processing.

Pollen and spores, two types of palynomorphs, are very resilient and resistant to decay under anaerobic conditions. For this reason, field samples are treated with a variety of chemicals that include acids and bases, heating, and ultrasonic treatments. These treatments tend to release and concentrate a sample's palynomorphs in addition to removing the genetic material contained within each pollen grain. The samples are then sieved, swirled, stained and the resultant polynomorph residue is mounted onto slides. The slides are passed on to the scientists while any remaining residue is placed into glass vials and stored for future use.


Please note: we are not a fee-for-service laboratory, but we welcome new collaborations with academic and other institutions.