Palynological sieving and preparation laboratory

To draw conclusions from the microscopic remains of plants, the materials must first be freed from the sediment in which they are trapped. The final stage of the preparation process takes place in the palynological sieving and preparation lab. This lab’s work is foundational to research into fossil fuels, geothermal energy, and landscape reconstruction.

For various fields

Knowledge of the Dutch surface and subsurface requires an understanding of the diversity of deposits in relation to the climate and time. Palynology is concerned with the study of microscopic plant remains, such as pollen, spores, and algae cysts. We analyse the geological remains from before the time of humanoids, as well as paleo- and archaeobiological remains deposited during the time of modern man’s ancestors, and archaeological and forensic material from the time of modern man.

Making preparations

Our research starts with the selection of sediments (rocks) that we then process using various chemicals, such as hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid. In several steps, we dissolve the lime and silicates, and then neutralise the remaining solution. What remains is a residue comprising mud and organic material. We then concentrate and separate the organic material, using vibrating boxes and various sieves covered with cloth ranging from 5 to 250 micrometres. What ultimately remains is a concentrate of pollen, spores, and cyst-rich material. Depending on its origin and age, we can process it even further. We can often directly apply the material to a glass plate and cover it with another glass plate. Different media (with a specific refractive index) make it possible to prepare a permanent or temporary specimen. Permanent specimens are particularly desirable for rocks from deep underground boreholes.

Automatic image recognition under development

After being supplied with relevant information, such as their location and depth, the specimens are ready for analysis by the palynologist. This analysis is conducted visually using a microscope. But the analysis method is under development. Using artificial intelligence, we are teaching our systems to recognise material using captured images. This will make automated counting possible in future.

Collaboration based on expertise

We advise our stakeholders on reprocessing and counting. We have excellent partnerships with universities and industry, mutually exchanging knowledge, expertise, and equipment (and knowledge on how to use it). The combination of our expertise with our own and Utrecht University’s laboratory facilities, as well as the synergy we have with other areas of expertise within GDN, makes our lab unique in the Netherlands.

More about our Palynological Laboratory

Interested in more information? Contact Nico Janssen via the blue ‘mail directly’ button below. 

Additional information

Additional information regarding preparation and alternative preparation methods can be found in a recent publication: Riding, J.B. (2021): A guide to preparation protocols in palynology.