What do you mean, “No purple gloves?”


A new dimension of perspective has been brought to our attention during this experience: the world of trace-metal sampling and studies.  We have been fortunate enough to be asked to help out with some of the sampling processes throughout the trip, and each method is as different as the investigator requesting the sample.  As the term implies, these scientists are not looking for hunks of iron ore to excavate.  Their world lies within the realm of the isotopes of elemental metals, and working within that world comes with some very strict rules of play.


Not any reflection of the care that is given this vessel, this is just what happens when metal is exposed to harsh salt environment on a daily basis, and why early water samples were grossly biased towards Iron content

Going back to the early days of oceanography, sampling methods were grossly different from the ways of modern oceanography.  If you think about it: looking for trace-metals in water or sediment samples while aboard a “rust bucket” may not yield the most accurate results.  In fact, many studies conducted around the 1950’s or earlier are far from accurate.  Most results were inconsistent or tainted by methods used by early scientists.  Not to say they were careless, but the realm of possibilities for sampling materials and methods available now are much more abundant than in years past.

The clean room

So in our case, the utmost care is taken to collect the various water samples that will be analyzed for trace-metals.  Instead of the rosette on board for collecting water, which is made of steel with zinc sacrificial anodes and hoisted on a metal cable, we use the GO-Flo bottles on a line coated in a synthetic, non-metallic material.  On the GO-Flo bottles, there is as little metal as possible, save the few wing nuts as fasteners and an external stainless steel spring that works with the messengers.  They are kept in a clean room (affectionately dubbed the E.T. room) and covered on top and bottom with plastic bags to avoid any contaminants in the air or from the surrounding environment.  There is a high-grade air filter that was brought by Dr. Silke Severmann as well, to keep the area as clean as possible.  All sample bottles are handled with gloves for collecting, labeling, and repacking in cleaned double-bagged Ziplocs.  And in the case that you were working with core samples earlier in the day and happen to still be wearing your work on your shirt, as I found out, you will need to change so as to not contaminate the samples with the particles from the sediments.

Trace-metal goes so far as to incorporate the types of bottles and gloves used.  I was unaware that certain types of plastics contain aluminum.  Being that any type of other trace metal’s presence could foul up a sample, those types of bottles are not used in this process.  Even other samples that incorporate the use of clamps, which were brand new in Gulfport and are now severely rusted in only 17 days, are not taken while these water samples are being drawn on deck.  And then there are the purple gloves.  The glorious fashion-statement we

No metal zone; even the iPod play-list is trace-metal friendly!

 were thrilled to find in the lab, beckoning for use; but we were immediately told they are absolutely out.  The reason for this is that wonderful purple hue is created by the presence of other metals…which, as I’m sure you’ve ascertained by now, will compromise the samples.  Bummer…

Clamps that have taken a beating from the harsh salt environment, yet only come out of the lab during sampling

Polonium sampling on the other hand is a very different approach.  Dr. Kanchan Maiti is not concerned with coming in contact with other metals or other samples.  His focus is so rare, that its presence will not be altered or hidden by other metals in the sample.  In fact, the other groups prefer he does his processing separate due to his incorporation of Iron to cause the metals in his samples to precipitate to the bottom.  That would definitely cause a ruckus if his added iron were mixed in with the other trace metal samples.  So again, the methods are strictly followed and spaces mapped out so as to maintain the most pristine samples as possible for the truest results during analysis.   

The count-down on board has begun.  We cannot believe in a few short days, we will be off-loading this boat and leaving behind such an amazing group of people, with so much knowledge to share!  Don’t miss out on your chances to send in questions while we have these scientists and crew at bay.  They would love to hear from you, and send out a response to your inquires.

Metal lines sum up the feeling trace-metal scientists have towards using them, a big "No."

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About Cris Wagner

Cris Wagner is currently working with the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station, in Navarre, Florida. Prior to moving to the Panhandle, she had the privilege of being the Director of Education and Exhibits at Florida Oceanographic in Stuart, FL.
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