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CSULB professor leads team studying radioactive contamination of kelp

Researchers from Cal State Long Beach and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have launched “Kelp Watch 2014,Ó a scientific campaign designed to determine the extent of radioactive contamination of the state´s kelp forest from Japan´s damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. Initiated by CSULB Biology Professor Steven L. Manley in this photo, and the Berkeley Lab´s Head of Applied Nuclear Physics Kai Vetter, the project will rely on samples of Giant Kelp and Bull Kelp from along the California coast. Brittany Murray/Staff Photographer
By Josh Dulaney, Long Beach Press Telegram
POSTED: 01/25/14, 12:17 PM PST |
LONG BEACH >> Steven L. Manley, a biology professor at Cal State Long Beach, is leading a group of researchers who are investigating the impact of radioactive contamination on California’s kelp forest from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

Kelp is “sort of a sentinel out there,” said Manley, who has taught at CSULB for more than 25 years. “Anything that goes along our coastline, this is going to pick up.”

An expert in marine algae and kelp who earned his doctorate in biology from UCLA and was a research fellow in the laboratory of the late Wheeler J. North at Caltech’s Kerckhoff Marine Laboratory in Corona del Mar, Manley said he regularly receives calls and emails from people asking about the effect of the Fukushima disaster on California’s marine life. The core of the power plant melted down after an earthquake triggered a tsunami that struck the northern Japanese coast in March 2011.

“They’re very efficient at absorbing materials out of the water because they have these very thin rod blades which act as sponges,” Manley said about kelp, “and they basically can concentrate a lot of the salts and dissolved materials including the radio isotopes present and can suck it up and concentrate it in its tissue.”

Manley is working with researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to launch “Kelp Watch 2014,” a project with more than 50 scientists from 20 academic and government institutions looking at giant kelp and bull kelp at 32 sites in California and two each in Baja, Mexico, and British Columbia, and one in Washington.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories with Cal State University, Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara and Coastal and Marine Institute at San Diego State are among the institutions that have volunteered to serve as regional processing centers.

Manley said, to his knowledge, this is the first large coalition of marine scientist centers conducting such sampling and research on the West Coast.

The scientists are donating their time and money for the research, which is receiving no state or federal funding, although Manley said he hopes groups will offer to finance the initiative.

Manley said radioactive contaminants that could arrive this year will most likely be very low.

“Would I stop swimming in the ocean this coming summer? Probably not,” he said.

Kelp sampling, with each piece weighing about 15 pounds and taking about 24 hours to analyze, will begin in March and last about a year, unless funding enables further research, Manley said. The samples will be processed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Low Background Facility for radionuclide analysis.



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