New Method for the Quantitative Analysis of Smear Slides in Pelagic and Hemi-Pelagic Sediments of the Bering Sea

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Michelle Kim Drake, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States, Ivano W Aiello, California State University Monterey Bay, Seaside, CA, United States and Ana Christina Ravelo, University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
Petrographic microscopy of smear slides is the standard method to initially investigate marine sediments in core sediment studies (e.g. IODP expeditions). The technique is not commonly used in more complex analysis due to concerns over the subjectivity of the method and variability in operator training and experience. Two initiatives sponsored by Ocean Leadership, a sedimentology training workshop and a digital reference of smear slide components (Marsaglia et al., 2013) have been implemented to address the need for advanced training. While the influence of subjectivity on the quality of data has yet to be rigorously tested, the lack of standardization in the current method of smear slide analysis (SSA) remains a concern.

The relative abundance of the three main components, (total diatoms, silt-to-sand sized siliciclastics, and clay minerals) of high and low density Bering Sea hemi-pelagic sediments from the ocean margin (Site U144; Site U1339) and pelagic sediments from the open-ocean (Site U1340) were analyzed. Our analyses show visual estimation is a reproducible method to quantify the relative abundance of the main sediment components. Furthermore, we present a modified method for SSA, with procedural changes objectively guided by statistical analyses, including constraints to increase randomness and precision in both the preparation and analysis of the smear slide. For example, repeated measure ANOVAs found a smear slide could be accurately quantified by counting three fields of view. Similarly, the use of replicate smear slides to quantify a sample was analyzed.

Finally, the data produced from this modified SSA shows a strong correlation to continuously logged physical parameters of sediment such as gamma ray attenuation (Site U1339 r2= 0.41; Site U1340 r2= 0.36). Therefore, the modified SSA combined with other independent methods (e.g. laser particle size analysis, scanning electron microscopy, and physical properties) can be a very effective tool for the interpretation and the quantitative analysis of lithologic variability in marine sediments.