A simple and inexpensive technique for assessing contamination during drilling operations

ICDP Lake Chalco Drilling Science Team and the ICDP Towuti Drilling Science Team

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Subsurface exploration relies on drilling. Normally drilling requires a drilling fluid that will infiltrate into the drill core. Drilling fluid contains non-indigenous materials and microbes from the surface, so its presence renders a sample unsuitable for microbiological and many other analyses. Because infiltration cannot be avoided, it is of paramount importance to assess the degree of contamination to identify uncontaminated samples for geomicrobiological investigations. To do this, usually a tracer is mixed into the drilling fluid. In past drilling operations a variety of tracers have been used, each has specific strengths and weaknesses. For microspheres the main problem was the high price, which limited their use to spot checks or drilling operations that require only small amounts of drilling fluid. Here, we present a modified microsphere tracer approach that uses an aqueous fluorescent pigment dispersion with a similar concentration of fluorescent particles as previously used microsphere tracers. However, it costs four orders of magnitude less, allowing for a more liberal use even in large operations. Its applicability for deep drilling campaigns was successfully tested during two drilling campaigns of the International Continental Drilling Program (ICDP) at Lake Towuti, Sulawesi, Indonesia, and Lake Chalco, Mexico. Quantification of the tracer requires only a fluorescence microscope or a flow cytometer. The latter allowing for high-resolution data to be obtained directly on-site within minutes and with minimal effort, decreasing sample processing times substantially relative to traditional tracer methods. This approach offers an inexpensive, rapid, but powerful alternative technique for contamination assessment during drilling campaigns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-211
Number of pages12
JournalLimnology and Oceanography: Methods
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was carried out with partial support from the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), PT Vale Indonesia, the Ministry of Research, Education, and Higher Technology of Indonesia (RISTEK), Brown University, the University of Minnesota, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Genome British Columbia. We thank PT Vale Indonesia, the U.S. Continental Scientific Drilling and Coordination Office, and U.S. National Lacustrine Core Repository, and DOSECC Exploration Services for logistical support. The research was carried out with permissions from RISTEK, the Ministry of Trade of the Republic of Indonesia, the Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA), and the Government of Luwu Timur of Sulawesi. Special thanks are due to Ryan O?Grady from LacCore for expert core handling and curation during both drilling projects as well as for his help with the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • TDP
  • MEXI


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