Kelp Watch

When the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan sent radioactivity into the air from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, scientists were concerned how quickly and broadly that contamination would travel.

It didn’t take long for rainstorms to bring contaminants including iodine-131 over the Pacific and drop them along North American west coast waters, as Cal State Long Beach marine biology Professors Steven L. Manley and Christopher G. Lowe discovered. In a May 2012 research article, they noted that ocean kelps are one of the strongest natural accumulators of iodine, so they examined kelp samples and determined that iodine-131 was indeed present in California kelp more than a month after the tsunami.

Although the initial radiation amounts were very low, the study drew a lot of public concern, so Manley, an expert in marine kelp and algae, and Kai Vetter, head of applied nuclear physics at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, are leading a new research project, Kelp Watch 2014.

“I thought it would be good if someone actually measured the contamination and then could report it to the public,” Manley said.