Working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Mass.) and academic institutions and establishments based in Japan and Spain, Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) has launched a multidisciplinary assessment of radioactivity levels in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan. The study is done in the wake of the massive earthquake that critically damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“This project will address fundamental questions about the impact of this release of radiation to the ocean, and in the process enhance international collaboration and sharing of scientific data,” said Vicki Chandler, Chief Program Officer, Science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which funded the project.
Beginning on June 4, researchers collected water and biological samples in a 200km x 200km area offshore of the plant, as well as in the Kuroshio Current, a strong current that could quickly carry radioactivity into the Pacific, a la the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic.
Dr. Nick Fisher of the SoMAS has led the collection effort, using filters and nets to gather marine organisms, including plankton. The ensuing tests, which will be done over several months, will reveal the radioactivity’s location, its travel patterns as well as its effect on marine life.
“Currently, we do not know the extent to which some of these radionuclides have been bio-accumulated and passed up the local food chains,” said Fisher. “This is obviously of interest, since the principal concern about the dispersal of radionuclides in the ocean stems from the fact that they can potentially be toxic to marine organisms or even humans who consume seafood, and the potential for toxicity is dependent on the extent to which radionuclides are bioconcentrated in marine organisms.”