Photo: Citizen scientists unite to answer Fukushima questions

Seawater sampling in Bamfield, B.C.(Credit: Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre)

By: Theresa Beer, Communications Specialist

More than three years have passed since the devastating Fukushima nuclear power plant accident in Japan, and an innovative crowd-sourced citizen science seawater sampling project is starting to yield information.

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Thirty sampling sites have been funded along the Pacific Coast. We've been the point group for sites on Haida Gwaii and at Bamfield on Vancouver Island for this Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution initiative.

Concerned citizens, First Nations, foundations and businesses have come together to monitor North American coastal waters. "Because of this unique collaboration, we've been able to begin building the most comprehensive dataset on radioactivity levels in the ocean along the west coast of North America since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster," said Ken Buesseler, WHOI marine chemist, in a news release.

So far, none of the citizen-collected seawater samples taken from the Pacific Coast has contained any trace of radiation from Fukushima, but continued support for monitoring is needed as the cesium isotopes reach our coast with levels possibly increasing over the coming few years. Data from samples is posted at How Radioactive Is Our Ocean? Participating communities learn whether cesium-137 or 134 — the short-lived isotopes used as indicators of the release from Fukushima — are present. They get informed about radioactivity in the ocean and what the levels mean.

More than 320 donations have been received and $50,000 raised to analyze seawater samples. Detecting marine radiation requires a large sample of seawater, which is analyzed by sophisticated cesium gamma detectors at WHOI. Some locations have raised funds for multiple samples.

Buesseler doesn't think levels in the ocean or seafood on the Pacific Coast will become dangerously high because of the Fukushima disaster, but he stresses the importance of monitoring.

It's important too to reflect on the impact of the accident on communities near Fukushima that face a ban on fishing, radioactive release in to the ocean from the plant and health concerns for workers and others.

Ken Buesseler is speaking in B.C. at two events.

June 5 Presenting Fukushima: A View from the Ocean at the Vancouver Aquarium at 9 a.m. in Vancouver. More info and RSVP.

June 5 Presenting Fukushima: A View from the Ocean at St. Anne's Academy Auditorium at 7 p.m. in Victoria.

May 28, 2014

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