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NEW CRP: Multiple Isotope Fingerprints to Identify Sources and Transport of Agro-Contaminants (D15018)

Schematic diagram of pollutants from agriculture in an agro-ecosystem environment. (Photo: Gwenaël Imfeld, CNRS, France)

The IAEA, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is launching a new coordinated research project to help address the global challenge of agricultural contaminants. This project, approved for a duration of five years (2018-2022) seeks to assist Member States combat nonpoint source pollution, a major problem in both developed and developing countries.

Isotope signatures have long been used to trace pollutants through waterways. However, existing approaches mainly use single isotopes to analyse specific pollutants. This CRP endeavours to develop analytical techniques that integrate multiple isotopes, so that a single set of tools can simultaneously provide information on the origins and pathways of multiple pollutants through agro-ecosystems, thereby improving the precision and breadth of existing analyses and providing more accurate guidance on appropriate mitigation actions.

Many kinds of pollution originate from agricultural practices, including inorganic and organic fertilizers, pesticides, salt from irrigation practices, sediments, and drug residues from livestock. These pollutants spread in dynamic ways, including through rainfall and snowmelt runoff, and by seeping (or, as it is sometimes called, ‘leaching’) into the ground through the soil. If the spread of these pollutants continues without action being taken (or if it goes unnoticed), potentially harmful substances can contaminate downstream eco-systems and water sources.

Making sure that the origin and flows of pollution are diagnosed, pinpointed, and understood is critical for the sustainability of agricultural practices and the maintenance of clean drinking water supplies. A toolkit of integrated isotope analysis techniques will help minimise nonpoint source pollution and strengthen sustainable agricultural practices in Member States.

CRP Overall Objective:

This CRP (D15018) aims to develop an integrated isotopic toolkit that can be used to identify and analyse the sources and pathways of pollutants (macronutrients and micro-contaminants) in agro-ecosystems.

Specific Research Objectives:

  • Develop the theoretical understanding needed to integrate separate isotope analyses
  • Establish proof-of-concept for an integrated suite of analytical stable isotope tools
  • Create guidelines that can be used to adapt the new toolkit to a variety of agricultural management situations

How to join the CRP?

Please submit your Proposal for Research Contract or Agreement by 31 March 2018 directly to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the template links on the CRA web site. For further information related to this CRP, potential applicants should contact Lee Heng, Section Head, or Joseph Adu-Gyamfi, Technical Officer of the Soil and Water Management & Crop Nutrition Section, Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.


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