Piston Core: Understanding the Mechanism and Strenght & Weakness of Piston Core Sampling in Oceanographic Research

Ocean sediment retrieval is an important aspect of oceanographic and marine geological research. Seafloor sediments contain valuable information about environmental history, patterns of climate change and geologic evolution that can provide deep insights into the dynamics of the Earth.
The information gained from analyzing marine sediments allows scientists to respond to changes in the marine environment, identify ecosystem sustainability, and understand the impacts of human activities on the ocean and surrounding environment.
As such, marine sediment sampling not only yields data about the seafloor, but also opens the door to a deeper understanding of the history and dynamics of the marine environment that broadly affects life on Earth.
Piston core is one of the tools used in geological and oceanographic research to retrieve sediment samples from the seafloor by penetrating the sediment layer using hydraulic pressure or vacuum. This tool is generally used to take sediment cores in large quantities and with a high level of precision.
The working principle of a piston core is as follows:

  1. Penetration: The piston core consists of a long steel tube equipped with a guard and hydraulic drive. It is dropped from a research vessel onto the seafloor. When it reaches the surface of the seafloor, the hydraulics are activated so that the piston at the top of the tube is pulled downwards. This creates a vacuum or negative pressure that helps the sediment core enter the tube.
  2. Sampling: As the piston is pulled down, the sediment enters the tube by way of the vacuum created by the movement of the piston. This ensures that the sediment samples taken from the seafloor have a good representation of the layers present.
  3. Back Lifting: Once the sediment sample is collected in the tube, the piston core is carefully lifted back to the surface. The sediment cores trapped in the tubes are then observed, documented and processed for further analysis in the laboratory.

How Piston Core Work

Piston cores are tools used to retrieve sediment cores from the seafloor. The process of using it involves a series of steps that need to be followed carefully. The following are the general steps in using a piston core:

1. Tool Preparation:

  • Make sure the piston core is in good condition and ready to use. Inspect all components and ensure that there is no damage or wear that could interfere with sampling.
  • Prepare the research vessel or research platform that will be used to lower and lift the piston core.

2. Location and Depth Determination:

  • Determine the exact location and depth at which you want to sample the sediment. This information is important to ensure the piston core can reach the seafloor properly.

3. Lowering the Device to the Seafloor:

  • Lower the piston core from the research vessel or platform into the water.
  • Ensure the device is connected to a cable or rope that is strong enough and secure enough to lower the device to the seafloor.
  • Monitor the tool continuously during the lowering process to ensure it moves smoothly and stably.

4. Piston Activation:

  • Upon reaching the seabed, activate the piston core in a manner appropriate to the tool design. This could involve the use of hydraulics or a vacuum mechanism built into the tool.
  • The process of activating the piston will create a negative pressure inside the tube which helps the sediment to enter the tube.

5. Back Lifting:

  • Once the sediment sample is collected in the tube, slowly and carefully lift the piston core back to the surface.
  • Ensure that the lifting process is smooth and safe to prevent damage to the sediment sample collected in the tube.

5. Sample Processing:

  • Once the piston core is back up, process the sediment sample on board or take the sample to the laboratory for further analysis.
  • Processing includes removal of the sample from the tube, separation of sediment layers, screening, measurement, and analysis of sediment composition and structure.

Piston Core Strengths and Weaknesses

Strenght :

  1. Producing Long Sediment Cores: Piston cores are capable of retrieving long sediment cores from the seafloor, allowing analysis of layers with a clear time sequence. These long cores are important in understanding the geologic history and marine environment.
  2. High Precision: It can sample sediments with high precision, which helps in accurately representing the seafloor environment.
  3. Clean Sampling: The sampling process with piston cores can produce relatively clean and integrity-preserved samples, enabling better analysis of sediment composition, structure and physical properties.
  4. Supports Multi-Disciplinary Research: Sediment cores retrieved from the seafloor via piston cores enable multi-disciplinary analysis, such as geochemical, paleontological and oceanographic analysis, which helps in understanding different aspects of the marine environment.

Weakness :

  1. Depth Limitations: Piston cores have limitations in the maximum depth at which they can operate effectively. For great depths or certain seafloor conditions, more specific sampling tools may be required.
  2. Damage or Interference: The process of lowering and lifting the piston core from the seafloor can result in damage to the device or sediment samples, especially if technical glitches occur or if the seafloor has a complex structure.
  3. Cost and Complexity: The purchase, maintenance and operation of piston cores is costly. In addition, their use and maintenance require specialized skills and can require complex maintenance.
Writer : Hilmi Fawwaz Putra

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