Why preserve sediment cores?

  • Sediment cores and samples are the fundamental data source for information on seabed character and recent sedimentation (and commonly contain records of environmental change).
  • Unless cores are stored under optimum conditions they can dry out and fracture within months, limiting their value for further research.
  • Cores are very expensive to collect
  • Cores do not always demonstrate their full value within the first few years after collection. As new measurement techniques become available and new concepts evolve, existing cores can be resampled to add to the knowledge base.

Major developments in our understanding of recent environmental change have come from material stored effectively in long-term core repositories. For example, The North Atlantic ‘Heinrich layers’, indicating six major collapses of the North American ice sheet during the last 60,000 years, are a prime example of the usage of stored material to, first, identify and later, to investigate in detail, a key global change phenomenon.

 

The deep biosphere

Deep-sea cores are not only of value to earth scientists, indications are that new life-saving antibiotics may come from substances found in deep sea sediments, potentially saving many lives.  One of the most exciting marine science discoveries of the last decade is that the sediments of the deep ocean comprise a deep microbial habitat which may account for 10% of the total global biomass and over 60% of all bacterial biomass on Earth.  These sediment-inhabiting microbes are effectively in competition with each other and produce compounds to limit or destroy rivals in this vast deep marine environment.  These compounds produced in isolation from terrestrial disease-producing bacteria, which will have no resistance to some of them, promise to contribute to the next generation of antibiotics. One deep-sea bacterium, Verrucosispora maris, produces a unique antibiotic, abyssomicin C, which may be effective against MRSA.  Deep marine bacterial strains, producing chemically diverse antibiotics, have been identified in samples from BOSCORF cores, showing BOSCORF's scientific value extends well beyond the earth sciences into medicine and pharmacy.  Indeed, recent advances in coring technology, such as the development of pressurised corers that can recover deep-sea sediments and preserve them at in situ pressures, allowing deep-sea sediment-dwelling microbes to be cultured, promises a new generation of treatments for a variety of medical conditions.