The United States Polar Rock Repository

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September 1, 2007 by J. Johnson

By Anne Grunow, Curator, and Julie Codispotti, Asst. Curator

Conducting geological research in the remote and hostile environments of Antarctica and the Arctic is difficult and expensive. Because of the extensive ice cover (up to 98% in Antarctica) samples from the few terrestrial outcrops are precious. Even though public monies have funded field work, rock samples have traditionally remained with the original collector and have sometimes been discarded, misplaced and/or left uncurated, hence lost to the scientific community.

The National Science Foundation and the US polar earth science community recognized the need for, and value of, preserving rock samples from Polar Regions and hence created the United States Polar Rock Repository (USPRR). The USPRR opened on the campus of the Ohio State University in October 2003 and is a national facility for the curation of rock sample collections from Antarctica and the Arctic . The presence of the
USPRR helps to reduce the costs and amount of environmental impact on Polar Regions and also provides several different sources of educational outreach to the community.

The USPRR is located adjacent to the Byrd Polar Research Center and is approximately 4300 sq-ft. The climate-controlled building contains 12′ high storage shelving racks that can be converted into movable shelving when the first storage units are full. Approximately 70,000 specimens can be stored on the current shelving and double that amount with additional racks. Along with rock samples, the USPRR houses a collection of field notes, photos, maps, paleomagnetic cores, rock and mineral residues, thin sections, microfossil mounts, microslides and residues. Samples may be borrowed or analyzed for research, educational or museum use by filling out an online request
form from our Web site (
Samples can be examined in a layout area equipped with tables, weighing scales, Ethernet connections, etc. Visitors may use a work area/conference room outfitted with a Leica petrographic microscope and attached digital video camera, a light table, computer, printer, scanner, polar books and maps. A rock preparation room is on site to cut specimens. The USPRR will provide the following services as requested by scientists and educators: 1) rock sawing of samples; 2) coring of samples (25mm diameter); 3) bulk magnetic susceptibility measurements; 4) magnetic intensity measurements using a JR5A magnetometer; 5) thin section photomicrographs;
6) scans of field maps and sketches. Sub-sets of samples are available for analysis by qualified investigators from around the world.

The USPRR maintains a database about the rock samples, as well as a magnetic property database assembled from published and unpublished paleomagnetic data (Figure 2). The USPRR uses commercial software called EMu (by KE Software)
as the in-house and online database for the repository ( The online sample database provides a fast way to search the
collection using multiple terms, and is one of the most comprehensive geological databases available to researchers, educators and museums worldwide.

The USPRR also strives to educate the local community about the Polar Regions and geology in general through a variety of educational outreach opportunities. As part of our local community outreach, the USPRR curator and staff conduct tours and give lectures about Antarctic field work to more than 1300 adults and children each year visiting the repository. We have an area where children can try on Antarctic clothing and
climb into a Scott tent and imagine what it’s like to be a scientist in Antarctica . The staff is also willing to visit local schools in the Central Ohio area to give talks about geology and use our samples as hands on items to get kids excited about science. Also, teachers can go online and order, free of charge, an Antarctic “Rock Box” which contains representative rock samples from the three main rock types, books about
Antarctica, a teacher’s guide and more.

The USPRR is a valuable resource to the scientific community because it advances knowledge about polar geology in regions that are often not well known because of logistical and ice-cover constraints. The presence of the USPRR lessens the
environmental impact in Polar Regions by encouraging researchers to assess samples in the USPRR collection first. Our online database facilitates field work planning, improving
the science, efficiency and safety of field operations. The USPRR provides a way for teachers and children to learn about Antarctica via our Web site, through school visits, borrowing a “Rock Box” and by visiting the Byrd Polar Research Center .

Anne M. Grunow
Wellesley College BA 1981 in Geology, Summa cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa
Columbia University Ph.D 1989 in Geology; Thesis work in Antarctica
Ohio State University University Postdoctoral Fellow 1990 University of Oxford, England NATO Postdoctoral Fellow 1991-1993
Ohio State University Research Scientist 1994-
Research projects in Antarctica, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Massachusetts
Curator of the USPRR since 2003.

Julie E. Codispotti
The Ohio State University, BA in Geological Sciences 2006
Assistant Curator of USPRR since March




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