Sampling equipment

BGS wireline coring system

Wireline bits

Where the target depth of any borehole is beyond the capability of the BGS remotely operated rockdrills, a drillship using wireline core-retrieval techniques is used. This method offers the ability to sample hundreds of metres below the sea bed. Wireline coring combines techniques developed by the oil and gas industry, mining and geotechnical coring tools, and the proven technology of wireline retrieval. BGS has developed and continually upgraded a suite of coring tools and interchangeable inner core barrels that have been successfully deployed on a range of projects

Previous projects:

  • The IODP Baltic Sea Paleoenvironment Expedition in 2013.
  • The ground-breaking IODP Arctic Coring Expedition (ACEX) in 2004.
  • BGS coring operations, such as the programme to survey the deep-water areas west of Scotland during which vessels such as the MV Bucentaur was equipped with the BGS wireline coring system.

During wireline coring, an inner core barrel is dropped (under free fall) through the outer drill pipe, locking in place once it reaches the bottom of the drill string. When the coring operation to fill the inner core barrel is complete, a retrieval tool is lowered down the drill string on a wire (hence wireline). The tool locks on to the top of the core barrel, and on retraction releases the mechanism holding the barrel allowing it to be pulled back up the drill string to the surface. The advantage of this method is that different inner core barrels can be used to cope with varying geology.

The current inner core barrel options are:

  • Piston core barrel for soft formations
  • Push core barrel for soft to firm, and non-cohesive formations
  • Push core rotating barrel for firm and non-cohesive formations
  • Non-rotating inner core barrel for consolidated soils and rock formations
  • Multi-purpose insert rod, allowing sensors to be carried down the drill string or a drill bit to be placed at the core opening for drilling with no core collection
  • Sub-sea downpipe camera used to carry out a safety/environmental survey of the sea bed ‘downpipe’ prior to drilling operations
  • Down-hole logging

BGS 5m rockdrill/vibrocorer (RD1)

The BGS RD1 system being deployed from the German research Meteor offshore Panarea, Italy

The BGS 5m combined rockdrill and vibrocoring system offers the versatility of two sampling systems on one rig. This has the advantage of mobilising one system for a project that allows both hard rock (5m maximum) and soft sediment (6m maximum) to be sampled using the same system.

The RD1 system can be mobilised on any vessel of opportunity that has a Dynamic Positioning (DP) system and suitable A-frame. RD1 has been used for a number of scientific and commercial projects from the Antarctic to the Tropics.

The system can also carry a sub-sea video camera suite that assists accurate landing by having a real-time link to the operators on the vessel.

Previous projects:

  • Sampling hydrothermal vent material offshore Papua New Guinea (led by the University of Freiberg)
  • Sampling offshore Costa Rica (led by the University of Kiel and IFM GEOMAR)
  • Sampling massive sulphide deposits in the Tyrrhenian Sea (led by IFM GEOMAR)
  • Sampling in the deep water areas located west and north of the UK

BGS 55m rockdrill (RD2)

The BGS RD2 system being deployed using dedicated Launch and recover system

The BGS 55m Rockdrill (RD2), is one of our newest remotely operated sampling system. RD2 is capable of coring up to 55m below sea floor in water depths up to 4000m and is operated via its own launch and recovery system (LARS). The system can continuously core in 1.7m sections, and can be outfitted with additional sensors such as gas-flow meters and down-hole logging tools.

The RD2 system will be used in conjunction with the Bremen University (MARUM) MeBo sea-floor rockdrill on future International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) expeditions implemented by the ECORD Science Operator (ESO).

Previous Projects:

  • RD2 has been used to sample hydrate-entrained sediments from the Sea of Japan in 2013. The maximum coring depth achieved was 32m below sea floor and the system can operate for more than 50 hours on a single deployment
  • Geological sampling in Loch Linnhe, NW Scotland in 2013
  • Geological Sampling in the Firth of Forth, Eastern Scotland in 2013
  • RRS James Cook cruise in 2011 sampling glacigenic sediments around the Western Isles of Scotland and igneous and metamorphic rocks around Flannan and Nun Rock

BGS 3m rockdrill (RD3)

The BGS RD3 system being deployed from the R/V Belgica

The BGS RD3 system is small and compact and can operate in up to 2000m of water. The system is therefore suitable for operations on vessels where deck space is limited and is ideal for when working in shallow water where it is harder for large vessels to operate.

BGS 6m and 3m vibrocorer

The BGS 3m vibrocorer rigged with the recently developed, autonomous, battery-operated system

The BGS 6m vibrocorer being deployed from the stern of the RRS James Clark Ross. The Larsen Ice Shelf is visible in the background during joint operations between BGS and the British Antarctic Survey

Having designed, built and operated vibrocoring systems since the 1970s, these are the BGS's oldest form of powered coring devices with a long and successful track record of recovering high-quality samples from various environments.

BGS currently has two Vibrocorer systems capable of coring either up to 6m or 3m of soft and unconsolidated sediment in up to 6000m of water. Sediments are collected in a plastic liner tube within a core barrel driven by a one-tonne weight and vibrator motor (hence the name vibrocorer) mounted at the top of the rig. Guillotine closure below the core barrel during recovery of the equipment aids in core retention during operations.

The systems are deployed using the vessel’s A-frame and either a ships lift winch, if using the battery-operated system, or the BGS umbilical winch for the full-powered version. Uniquely, BGS vibrocorers utilise a powered winch to extract the core barrel from below sea bed, prior to recovering the rig. This reduces the number of damaged core barrels and more importantly the strain on the lift umbilical.

Previous 6m vibrocorer projects:

  • Britice-Chrono 2014 sampling campaign
  • BGS sampling campaign sampling glacigenic sediments around the sea lochs of NW Scotland 2007 e.g. Summer Isles where the study of these vibrocores form part of the ‘reference section’ of ‘named rock units’ (Annat Bay Formation, Assynt Glacigenic Formation and Loch Broom Shell Bed to name a few)
  • 2009 sediment coring to investigate the Late Quaternary record of Jakobshavns Isbrae across the shelf and adjoining deep-sea sediment fan (JCR175 Greenland)
  • 2011 BGS sampling campaign (JC059) to identify glacial and post-glacial sediment pathways, determine the internal structure of sea floor features and constrain stratigraphy to aid in seismic data interpretation (Sea of Hebrides, Malin Sea, North Channel regions)
  • 2012 NOCS expedition (JC077) as part of the UK’s input to the EC funded ECO2 project aiming to develop a ‘best environmental practice’ for carbon capture and storage industry
  • Sampling glacigenic and Holocene deposits offshore East Anglia (Regional Environmental Characterisation)
  • Sampling around Montserrat for volcanic dome-collapse material (led by Bristol University)
  • Sampling in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey

Previous 3m vibrocorer projects:

  • 2014 MINIMOUND project campaign acquired cores from the canyon interfluves (the area between canyon heads) between the Dangeard and Explorer Canyons in the UK’s South West Approaches

BGS oriented drill

The BGS Orientated drill

The Oriented Drill was specifically designed to recover samples for use in palaeomagnetic studies and was initially developed for use on the NERC funded BRIDGE Programme (British Mid-Ocean Ridge Programme; 1996-98) on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The maximum core length is 0.8m and the system can acquire samples in up to 5500m water depth. Orientation is achieved by scribing the core along its length with a single reference line and then using the two drill-mounted compasses to assign a heading to this reference mark. This marking can subsequently be related to a world reference, thereby allowing detailed palaeomagnetic analysis to be carried out and to measure the orientation of crystals and fractures in rocks.

Previous projects:

  • 1998: Atlantis Bank
  • 2001: Fifteen-Twenty Fracture Zone of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge
  • 2007: Mid Atlantic Ridge
  • 2008: Hess Deep

This drill is launched, recovered and operated by means of a standard scientific coax lift cable, found on most research vessels. This allows for easy installation on any suitable vessel. Due to the drill's small footprint there is minimal environmental impact.

The BGS Oriented Drill appeared on the front cover of the journal Geology in 2002.

BGS gravity corer

Gravity corer

The Gravity Corer is a simple coring system that can recover up to 6 m of core in soft sediments and has been successfully used in water depths of 3700m. It is run from a free-fall hydraulic winch with the potential to recover samples from 5000m water depth.

The system is supplied complete with winch, A frame and launch chute. The launch and recovery chute allows the system to be operated in adverse weather conditions. The system can be supplied with its own fully equipped workshop and core bench. Mobilisation can normally be carried out within 24 hours.

Previous projects:

  • 2009 sediment coring to investigate the Late Quaternary record of Jakobshavns Isbrae across the shelf and adjoining deep-sea sediment fan (JCR175 Greenland).

Box corer

Box corer

The box corer can be used to recover large volume sediment samples in any water depth that the vessel’s launch system can reach. The maximum volume of sample is 300 x 300 x 600 mm at full penetration. Small sample cores can be taken from side windows in the corer before the main sample is removed to the sample tray. The system is constructed from stainless steel to reduce the risk of contamination of the sample.

The system operates by means of a mechanical trigger once the corer has embedded itself in the sea bed. The corer is then recovered to the ship's deck using either an A frame winch and wire or a Hiab type crane and wire.

Shipek grab

Shipek grab fitted with UMEL camera

The Shipek Grab system is designed to recover small sea-bed surface samples of up to 2 kg. The system can operate in water depths of 300m. The grab operates by means of a hand priming system, which is set on the vessel. The grab is then lowered to the sea bed where, upon contact, a trigger weight on the grab strikes a release mechanism and the sample compartment closes to encapsulate a sample of sea-bed sediment.

An electro-hydraulic winch complete with metering system, is used to lower the grab to the sea bed on a 6mm wire at a speed of 60 to 70 m/minute. This allows the water depth at which the sample is taken to be recorded.

This system is ideal for taking a large number of small volume samples and is often used to take sediment samples in conjunction with other equipment on the same project.

Clamshell grab

Clamshell grab

The Clamshell Grab system can be used to recover large volume sediment samples from the sea bed (340 litres). This is a hydraulically driven mechanical grab that can operate in water depths of 70m. The system is supplied with a self-contained hydraulic powerpack and hydraulic winch. It can operate from any DP vessel or vessel at anchor. Sediments are recovered to deck where they are then released into an enclosed container for investigation. Sub-samples can then be taken from this container.


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