Geography and Earth Sciences Laboratories

The geography and earth science laboratories support undergraduate/postgraduate courses and research work in these subject areas. Resources include:

The Palaeoecology Laboratories

Equipped to undertake a range of analytical techniques such as pollen, diatom, insect, foram, fungal spore, plant macrofossil, testate amoeba, and tephra analyses. These proxies can be used to investigate a number of topics including quaternary environmental and landscape change, environmental archaeology, changes in past sea-level, palaeoclimatology, and early agriculture. There are three palaeo labs comprising sampling and processing rooms, plus a larger microscope lab.

Sediment cores and samples can be initially assessed, described, and sub-sampled in the sampling/coring room. This also houses wet processing facilities for bulk samples (insects, forams and plant macrofossils), and cold storage facilities. Secondly is the palaeo-preparation laboratory which contains fume cupboards for processing pollen, diatom, plant macrofossil, testate amoebae, and tephra samples. Monitoring of pollen levels in order to provide the pollen forecast for the Plymouth region in conjunction with the Met Office, is also undertaken here.


Lastly, we have a larger lab where all our microscope work is undertaken. There is a range of low- and high-power microscopes available to use, including dedicated camera and image analysis software. A pollen reference collection and range of identification keys for various proxies is also available. Tuition on using graph drawing software packages (Tilia and C2) for palaeoecology projects can be undertaken here.

Instruction on the use of various field work equipment useful to palaeoecology projects includes a range of sediment corers (Russian, gouge, Livingstone, soil augers). We also hold geophysical equipment, with Katie Head responsible for tuition on the use of our ground penetrating radar and associated analysis software, as well as magnetic susceptibility instrumentation for field and laboratory.

Contact: Dr Katie Head, Room 703a, Davy Building.

Soils, Sediment and Water Laboratories:

  • particle size analysis - sieving / settling columns /laser diffraction / image analysis
  • rainfall simulation / soil erosion experimental work / soil aggregate stability
  • soil pore size distribution assessment
  • lab-based hydraulic conductivity with constant and falling head apparatus
  • basic soil and water chemistry - pH / conductivity


  • loss-on-ignitionorganic matter content
  • soil and sediment sample milling and preparation for subsequent analysis in the analytical research facilities
  • basic geotechnical work.

Contact: Mr Richard Hartley, Room 703a, Davy Building.

Earth Sciences Research Laboratories

Designed to undertake a range of geological processing and analytical techniques, the Earth Science Research Labs consist of wet and dry processing areas, analytical lab space, and a microscopy and imaging lab

The wet lab is equipped to carry out sample processing for sediment analysis, micro- and macro-palaeontology, and geochemistry. From crushing and sieving, to acid digestion and solvent sample processing, all aspects of sample preparation can be undertaken here.

Once processed samples can be analysed in the dry lab, or measured on our geochemical instrumentation including stable isotope mass spectrometry (carbon, oxygen and organic carbon); ICP-MS; and ICP-AES.

The dry lab has a focus on analysis, with a range of high power petrological microscopes, low power binocular microscopes, and biological microscopes available. Samples in this space can also micro-drilled for geochemical analysis.

Our dedicated clean Microscopy and Imaging Lab is designed for high level microscope work and imaging, as well as housing our microbalance for precision weighing.

We have a number of different microscopes and imaging equipment in the lab detailed below:

Nikon Eclipse LV100POL provides transmission and reflectance microscopy for polished blocks, thin sections and resin mounted grains or specimens. The mounted Nikon DSFi1 digital camera and the NIS-elements imaging software enables high resolution image capture. Large images can be stitched together enabling thin section textures to be fully imaged, and whole sections to be mapped prior to EBSD analysis. We are also able to take stacked images with the manual z-stage under reflected light enabling three dimensional images of microfossils also to be captured. The imaging software can also be utilized for data analysis, with precision measurement functions, point counting and threshold mapping of minerals.


Canon EOS 7D with two macro lens, the EFS 60mm and the MP-E 65mm 1-5X, for specimen photography. This camera can be mounted on to both high and low power microscopes, as well as used on the camera copy stand with lighting. With dedicated imaging software for the camera, and the Helicon Focus stacking software, high resolution three dimensional images of material can be taken.

Nikon Eclipse 50iPOL is dedicated to Cathodoluminescence (CL) microscopy. Mounted with an Optical Cathodoluminescence Stage and cold-cathode electron gun (CITL Cathodoluminescence Mk 5.2), this microscope can be used in the petrographic analysis of sediments. In carbonates to assess petrography, and diagenesis of both cements and fossil components; and in siliciclastics to unravel the provenance of grains, as well as assess diagenetic minerals and fabrics. Additionally CL can also be applied to ore deposit geology, petroleum geology and archaeology. With dedicated image capture software and a (Tucsen USB 2.0 H series) digital camera images can be easily taken and saved.

Two Olympus Vanox microscopes, one for biological material and one for thin sections. A digital camera can be attached to these cameras for image capture, and a point counting unit is available for use on these microscopes, as well as a x1 objective for viewing sections in large scale.

Olympus SZ40 binocular microscope for analysis and imaging of both micro and macro fossils. A digital camera can be attached for image capture and stacked three dimensional images can be taken using our specialist software.

Biological microscopes for palynological analysis

Full training and support can be given on all equipment and processing techniques

Contact: Dr Jodie Fisher

Support staff