The core of climate change

Researchers at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science are using X-ray technology to find answers to historic climate changes. The XRF, or X-ray Fluorescence Core Scanner made by Netherlands-based Avaatech, will search for clues in earth and marine sediment core samples.

‘From a paeleoclimate researcher’s perspective, this is a dream come true,’ said Larry C. Peterson, the marine geology professor whose lab houses the scanner. ‘There is a tremendous amount of information about earth history preserved in the chemical composition of sediments deposited on the ocean floor, in lakes, and on land. By measuring the concentration of specific elements in these sediments, the XRF Core Scanner can help us document the history of drastic climate variations and past geological events, giving us more of an idea of the current and future state of our environment.’

The XRF Core Scanner will be able to chemically analyse sediment cores quickly and without any physical damage.

‘The Core Scanner allows us to determine the complete chemical composition of the cores without disturbing them, and at a speed and measurement resolution previously unimaginable. What normally would take weeks or months of laboratory time can now be done within a few hours,’ said Peterson.

Data collected from each scan is transferred directly to computers in Peterson’s lab for analysis. Once cores are loaded in the Core Scanner, the instrument can be operated from remote locations over the Internet.

Peterson and his colleague Gerald Haug previously used a similar XRF machine to study core samples taken from the CariacoBasin off the Venezuelan coast. The scientists were able to find geological records of severe droughts between 800 and 1000 AD, coincident with the collapse of Classic Mayan civilisation.