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Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center

Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center > Ocean Floor Samples Repository > Collections Management

USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Samples Repository

Collections Management

Our Mission Statement

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center (WHCMSC) Samples Repository will:

Who We Serve

We provide secure storage, processing, and subsampling services to USGS staff, and researchers from government and academic institutions investigating the history, nature, and physical properties of geological, biological, and geochemical materials collected from coastal, marine, and near-shore environments.

Labels and log sheets used to organize samples collections in the WHCMSC Samples Repository

Figure 8. Labels and log sheets used to organize samples collections in the WHCMSC Samples Repository. [Larger version]

Responsibility for Sample Storage

Upon collection and return to the WHCMSC, all samples are the responsibility of the collecting scientist in conjunction with the Curator of Geologic Collections, who will ensure appropriate storage and careful maintenance of the samples to guarantee their preservation. Containers for bulk sediments (grabs and subsamples) and small samples, as well as D-tubes for split cores will be provided by the repository for all incoming samples.

The WHCMSC Sample Repository’s primary function is to provide controlled long-term storage under optimum preservation conditions for geological, biological, and geochemical samples collected through field work by researchers or programs funded by USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program. The Samples Repository will accept samples and cores collected by third parties, providing the materials are supplied in good condition and potentially useful to further scientific investigation, come with appropriate metadata (see Minimum Required Information below), and are formally transferred to the custody of the U.S. Geological Survey through a Memorandum of Understanding or other formal agreement.

A Note about Hazardous Materials: Samples or suites of samples from environmental studies may contain preservatives, such as formalin or sodium azide, or trace amounts of heavy metals that may be harmful to humans, such as mercury. Any samples submitted to the WHCMSC Samples Repository that contain, or may possibly contain, any concentration of toxic preservatives, heavy metal content, asbestos, or radioactivity must be explicitly stated and approved as such up front before the materials are accepted into the Samples Repository. The curator will consult with local safety officers on the appropriateness of retaining these materials on-site, or, if needed, determine if these sample collections would be better kept elsewhere to prevent possible harm through exposure to toxic elements.

For up-to-date trace-concentration limits for toxic metals content, please refer to Code of Federal Regulations 40 CFR §261.24, "Section 261.24 - Toxicity Characteristic".

Minimum Required Information for Acceptance

The policies and practices of the WHCMSC Samples Repository closely follow those procedures outlined by the USGS Geologic Collections Management System (The Geologic Materials Working Group, 2015). The “4-Point Standard” of basic information needed to evaluate a sample or sample collections for acceptance into the Samples Repository’s curated collections as explained in the Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS), as well as the decision tree (figure 3 in the GCMS manuscript) provided with this standard to determine retention and disposition of these materials is followed closely by the Samples Repository.

This 4-Point Standard consists of four necessary components of information each sample must be able to be associated with in order to be considered for addition into the Repository. Each sample must have metadata and information provided with it to answer these four criteria:

  1. A sample name, or some other identifier that is unique to that sample in the context of the field activity or grater collection to which it belongs;
  2. Specific location of collection information, preferably as geographic coordinates (however site names and geographic features can be used to approximate collection site locations) in order to graphically display collection origins for the samples curated in the Repository. In the case of samples collected at sea, which most of the materials in the WHCMSC are, water depths recorded at the time of collection are also required;
  3. Any and all available information relating to the Field Activity, cruise, or expedition the sample came from (at the most basic, the Samples Repository requires the name of the collecting scientist); and
  4. The date of collection for each sample.

Planning for Sample Collection

Any planned Field Activities which the WHCMSC is participating in that will be collecting samples and bringing them back to the Repository is encouraged to download the template provided here to document these samples as they are collected:

WHSC_Sample_Collection_Template.xltx – Microsoft Excel Template (19KB)

Right-click the link and select “Save As” to save the template to your computer’s hard drive.

Upon return to Woods Hole, the Curator of Geologic Collections will use this completed datasheet to inventory the sample collections and make them available for processing and analysis.


Conditions for Long-term Storage

Samples and collections fulfilling the 4-Point Standard, accepted into the Samples Repository, and inventoried are the responsibility of the collecting scientist in cooperation with the Curator of Geologic Collections, and will be cared for indefinitely.  If storage conditions change or space considerations arise, it is the duty of the curator in consultation with the collecting scientist (if available), the WHCMSC Center Director, and an ad hoc Local Advisory Committee, to locate alternate storage solutions for the samples.

The sundry civil expenses bill, also known as the USGS Organic Act of March 3, 1879 (20 Stat. 394; 43 USC 31), which established the U.S. Geological Survey, also, as amended, directed that

“All collections of rocks, minerals, soils, fossils, and objects of natural history, archaeology, and ethnology, made by the National Ocean Survey, the United States Geological Survey, or by any other parties for the Government of the United States, when no longer needed for investigations in progress shall be deposited in the National Museum. (20 USC 59)”

The National Museum, specifically the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), has been designated as the ultimate repository for all scientific samples and collections collected by the USGS and other Federal agencies deemed appropriate for permanent retention.  If decisions are made to remove samples from the custody of the WHCMSC Samples Repository, the Curator of Geologic Collections is bound to offer these materials to the NMNH for permanent transfer into the Smithsonian Institution’s collections as a right of first refusal.  If the NMNH declines the offer to transfer the samples into their custody, the curator will give due diligence to locating alternate storage and use for these samples and collections by following the guidelines provided in the USGS Geologic Collections Management System’s decision tree.

Requesting Sample Material

Making samples and sample collections available for research and reuse, as well as providing for their preservation and security, is the responsibility of the WHCMSC Samples Repository. Our available sample collections can be searched using our Catalog Search Catalog Search interface.  Search results are exported as shapefiles and come with customized metadata.

Sample request forms, as well as information pertaining to the WHCMSC Samples Repository’s policies on loan requests and data return are available through our Sample Request page.


The Geological Materials Repository Working Group, in review, The USGS Geologic Collections Management System (GCMS) - A master catalog and collections management plan for the USGS Geologic Samples Collections: U.S. Geological Survey Circular.


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