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World Oceans Day: Protecting Our Oceans, Our Future with Nuclear Science


(Video: J. Weilguny/IAEA)

Our oceans are essential to our planet’s future, but human activity and contaminants from people continue to threaten marine environments. Scientists have found that people-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is changing seawater chemistry, and pollutants are not only harming ocean life and marine environments, but many are making their way through the food chain onto our dinner plates.

How do scientists know this? They are getting down to the atomic level: with cutting-edge nuclear and isotopic techniques, they are tracking and studying certain atoms to investigate chemical, biological and other processes related to the ocean and stressors on the ocean like contaminants and human activity.

For World Oceans Day, we have highlighted a few ways that nuclear science and technology are helping us to protect our ocean and our planet.

CO2 goes up means ocean acidification

The ocean absorbs one fourth of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by human activities, the carbonate chemistry and acidity of seawater is modified in a process known as ocean acidification.

This has emerged as a key global issue in the last decade because of its potential to affect marine organisms and ecosystems. The IAEA’s Environment Laboratories conduct research to better understand the potential environmental and economic impacts of ocean acidification. The Agency uses nuclear and isotopic techniques to study the rates of biological processes in marine organisms, such as mussels, oysters and corals.

Watch the video above to learn more.

Pollutants find their way into the ocean and into seafood

Pollutants may seem to disappear into the ocean to never be seen again, but for many contaminants, it is only the beginning of their oceanic journey up the food chain to people’s dinner plates. Around 80% of pollution comes from land, including agriculture, heavy industry, untreated sewage and litter like plastics.

Using radiotracers, scientists can better understand how contaminants move through the marine food chain. Their findings provide the science-based information experts need to develop and maintain effective national seafood safety regulations to monitor contaminants and protect people.

Watch the video below and read this story to learn more about seafood safety and how scientists use nuclear and isotopic techniques to detect contaminants in the ocean and in seafood to help keep people and the ocean safe.

(Video: J. Weilguny/IAEA)

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