COI Funded Project: Bioaccumulation of trace metals by phytoplankton in heavily impacted harbors and their relationship to ecological assessment


Project Duration: 6/1/97-12/31/99
Key Words: phytoplankton, toxic metals, bioaccumulation, biological indicators

Final Report

Contaminants of human origin are ubiquitous constituents of coastal waters. Frequently scientists and regulators ask, "How much of a given contaminant is acceptable?" "Acceptable" is often defined as a level of contaminant that does not pose a threat to the sustainability or stability of an ecosystem. However, as we learn more about coastal environments, it is clear that simple predictive measurements are in fact, complicated by a variety of factors.

My particular interest is variability in the distribution and biological availability of contaminants in dynamic coastal environments. Mixing processes that can lead to considerable spatial and temporal variability in contaminant distributions, present a real challenge for ecological assessment studies.

Normally scientists need large data sets to determine how contaminants vary at numerous locations within an estuary or harbor during storm events. Since collection of discrete samples is costly and logistically difficult, we have been working with an in situ, passive sampling probe to study the distribution and bioavailability of trace metals in harbors. I used the probes to study metal mobilization in Boston Harbor and surrounding areas during such episodic events as combined sewage overflows and dredging activities.