Just two weeks ago, Ken Buesseler at WHOI launched a brilliant crowdfunded campaign “Our Radioactive Ocean” to measure radiation off the West Coast of the US. And not surprisingly, it was a huge success. In just two weeks, they have funded, sampled and tested sites in California and Washington. And the results from the first four sites are now posted on their website.And the results are that radioactive seawater from Fukushima has not been detected at any of the 4 sites that were sampled. Seawater was measured for both Cesium-137 and Cesium-134. By comparing the relative concentrations of both isotopes they could figure out the source of the radioisotopes. They found very low-levels of Cesium-137, but Cesium-134 was below detectable levels, indicating the Cesium is originally from atomic bomb-testing in the 1960s rather than Fukushima.
What does this mean for the west coast right now? In the immortal words of Ken Buesseler himself…
“The reason why we see such low levels of radiation in these samples is because the plume is not here yet. But it’s coming. And we’ll actually be able to see its arrival,” Buesseler says. “That baseline data is critical.
The plume is predicted to reach the US West Coast in April 2014 and it will be “detectable but not harmful.” Samples taken off the coast of Vancouver Island in June 2013 show the plume has reached it, but the observed concentrations are at most 1 Bq/m3. In other words, 7400 times less than the EPA’s maximum concentrations for drinking water so the levels are not harmful for humans or sea life.
But it’s still important to know when the plume reaches the West Coast so scientists can understand how contaminants spread throughout the ocean. Luckily, awesome folks like Bing Gong from Point Reyes, CA had the foresight to procure enough funds to test the water for the next three years. High fives all around!
I also want to encourage people to donate and become a part of this project. It’s a great way to not only help science out, but there is the opportunity for you to do some science as well. This is especially true for locations that aren’t being sampled yet such as Alaska (Juneau, Seward and Dutch Harbor I’m talking to you!). If you haven’t already, check ourradioactiveoceans.org for more information on radioactivity in the ocean and how you can help.
Quotes from WHOI press release published January 28th http://www.whoi.edu/news-release/our-radioactive-ocean-website-update-release