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NEW CRP: Applied Radioecological Tracers to Assess Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Health (K41019)

New Coordinated Research Project

Coastal and marine ecosystems face various threats from climate change and anthropogenic activity, however radiotracers can be valuable tools to evaluate their health. (Photo: Roberta Hansman)

The IAEA is launching a new 4-year Coordinated Research Project (CRP) starting in early 2019 to develop new radioecological tracers (radiotracers) to assess the health of coastal and marine ecosystems.

Many of the challenges threatening the sustainability of coastal and marine ecosystems are caused or exacerbated by anthropogenic (i.e. human-caused) activities and a changing climate. Issues such as deoxygenation, marine plastics, ocean acidification, increased duration and intensity of toxic harmful algal blooms (HABs) and fluxes of nuclear and non-nuclear pollutants are all impacting coastal and marine resources, thereby posing various environmental and economic risks. Evaluating the health of coastal and marine ecosystems, and how they may respond to external disturbances, can provide useful information for Member States in the sustainable management of their marine environments.

The use of radiotracers through nuclear techniques both in laboratory and field settings has been invaluable for understanding marine and coastal ecosystems. Nuclear techniques have allowed for monitoring the uptake and biomagnification of radioactive and non-radioactive contaminants, identifying and quantifying biotoxins in seafood, assessing impacts of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms and evaluating metabolic processes with increasing temperature, among other applications.

However, within the context of a changing climate, to maximize the utility of radiotracers for addressing the marine environment, it is important not only to continue to refine existing methods but also to develop new techniques best suited to current and future regimes. To this end, this CRP will develop and refine radiotracer techniques specifically tailored to assess coastal and marine ecosystems. It will bring together scientists from different Member States working on a variety of topics, including but not limited to HABs, ocean acidification, marine plastics, food web dynamics, deoxygenation and land-sea interactions. The diverse nature of this CRP is specifically designed to allow for exchange and refinement of ideas and techniques across sub-disciplines unified under the broader field of marine radioecology.

CRP overall objective:

The primary goal of this CRP is the development, refinement and application of nuclear techniques to assess coastal and marine ecosystems and their biota, particularly with respect to societally relevant challenges from anthropogenic- and climate change-impacts, such as deoxygenation, HABs, pollution, ocean acidification and marine plastics.

Specific research objectives:

  • Identify specific aspects of coastal and marine ecosystems, relevant to Member States’ interests, that are best evaluated through radiotracer techniques.
  • Build capacity in participating laboratories to develop and apply radiotracer techniques for evaluating coastal and marine ecosystem health.
  • Apply newly developed or refined radiotracers to assess the health and sustainability of coastal and marine resources.

Suggested areas of focus within marine radioecology:

Specific Issues:

  • Trophic transfer/biomagnification, including emphasis on loss rates and biodynamic modelling of contaminants, through food webs into commercially important fisheries.
  • Expanded geographical distribution, particularly to tropical ecosystems.
  • Biotic (bioturbation) and abiotic (pH, temperature, resuspension) effects on metal speciation, particularly in sediment.
  • Role of microbes/plankton in contaminant uptake.
  • Priority contaminants of concern: mercury, methylmercury, polonium, and caesium.
  • Dynamics of thorium- and polonium-biota interactions, specifically with regards to carbon flux.
  • Role of metals in HABs biotoxin production.
  • Biological impact of emergent contaminants (e.g., gadolinium, microplastics, PFOS).

Application of Techniques:

  • Develop new applications for radiotracers (e.g., Fe-59, Mn-54 for redox studies).
  • Evaluate multiple stressor impacts on marine organisms (both multiple contaminants and environmental stressors, such as temperature, pH).
  • Analyse impact of physiological processes (e.g., moulting, metamorphosis) on contaminant uptake and loss.
  • Integrate stress or energy biomarkers (i.e., NMR, genomics, behaviour) with radiotracer contaminant studies.
  • Adapt existing radio-assays to detect additional HABs biotoxins.
  • Explore maternal and intergenerational transfer of contaminants.

How to join the CRP:

Please submit your Proposal for a Research Contract or Agreement by email no later than 15 March 2019, to the IAEA's Research Contracts Administration Section, using the appropriate template on the CRA website. For further information related to this CRP, potential applicants should write to the Research Contracts Administration Contact Point.

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