Authors: André Friese, Jens Kallmeyer, Jan Axel Kitte, Ivan Montaño Martínez, Satria Bijaksana, Dirk Wagner, the ICDP Lake Chalco Drilling Science Team and the ICDP Towuti Drilling Science Team
Subsurface exploration relies on drilling. Normally drilling requires a drilling fluid that will infiltrate into the drill core. Drilling fluid contains non-indigenous materials and microbes from the surface, so its presence renders a sample unsuitable for microbiological and many other analyses. Because infiltration cannot be avoided, it is of paramount importance to assess the degree of contamination to identify uncontaminated samples for geomicrobiological investigations. To do this, usually a tracer is mixed into the drilling fluid. In past drilling operations a variety of tracers have been used, each has specific strengths and weaknesses. For microspheres the main problem was the high price, which limited their use to spot checks or drilling operations that require only small amounts of drilling fluid. Here, we present a modified microsphere tracer approach that uses an aqueous fluorescent pigment dispersion with a similar concentration of fluorescent particles as previously used microsphere tracers. However, it costs four orders of magnitude less, allowing for a more liberal use even in large operations. Its applicability for deep drilling campaigns was successfully tested during two drilling campaigns of the International Continental Drilling Program (ICDP) at Lake Towuti, Sulawesi, Indonesia, and Lake Chalco, Mexico. Quantification of the tracer requires only a fluorescence microscope or a flow cytometer. The latter allowing for high-resolution data to be obtained directly on-site within minutes and with minimal effort, decreasing sample processing times substantially relative to traditional tracer methods. This approach offers an inexpensive, rapid, but powerful alternative technique for contamination assessment during drilling campaigns.