Monthly Archives: December 2010

Flushed chemicals reach orca habitat in less than 4 days

Live-blogged notes from a UW Water Seminar talk by Rick Keil’s student Brittany Kimball

Spicing Up the Sound: Cooking Spices and Aberrant Chemicals in Puget Sound and How They Get There
Sound Citizen collects water samples from around the region to understand the transport of common household chemicals from human sources into the marine environment.  An added benefit is that the educational message is positive (e.g. associated with holiday cooking), in contrast to typical discouraging environmental news.  With funding primarily from Washington Sea Grant, the undergraduate-driven project provides citizen scientists with kits for collecting water samples (about 40-75 kits returned per month since December 2008).

Analysis measures concentrations of: spices (27), solvents, perfumes, endocrine disruptors, and (soon) soaps and more.

Oregano — spikes in early May due to spring growth

Linalool — a scent from flowers (also common in household products) peaks naturally in June/July

Cinammon — can differentiate between cooked and metabolized (trans-cinnamic acid); based on 2007 data from treated sewage effluent peaks ~4 days after Thanksgiving (thyme also peaks 4 days after)

Vanillin — both natural and synthetic (ethyl vanillin, 4x more flavorful, so common in candy); peaks on memorial day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines day, 4th of July, Labor day; natural vanillin peaks during winter holidays (when real vanilla extract is used) while synthtic peaks during summer (possibly due to mass consumption of ice cream).

Chemicals in personal care products (e.g. musks, other fragrances…) and industrial products (e.g. insecticides, fertilizers) are detected about as commonly as spices in the samples.  Lawn care chemicals peak in summer, while ibuprofen and estrogens peak in winter (a function of runoff and overflow from sewage treatment plants?).

With the new mass spectrometer, we can measure oleic acids (olive oil soaps), steric acids, and more…

Don’t miss our high school action projects on Feb 3-4.  Student posters will be presented then at Mary Gates Hall.

VENUS hydrophones going deeper, reporting more

Thanks to Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute, some news caught my ear in this article from the Times Colonist on the hydrophones deployed off the Fraser River delta.  There’s also a good bit of supposition without much science to back it up…

The key news I gleaned is that the hydrophones will be moved in a couple weeks from 170m depth to 300m.  I also was happy to learn that someone at VENUS (Richard Dewey) appears to be paying attention to the issue of noise pollution from the perspective of the southern resident killer whales.  Indeed, it seems he’s got a bit of a publicity campaign started.  He’s been on Canadian radio (CBC’s BC Almanac) talking about the hydrophones and has posted a nice YouTube video about underwater ship noise and potential impacts on orcas.

Listen to:  an excerpt with only the hydrophone portion of the broadcast; the full BC Almanac podcast (45 min including other news).

It will be great if they publish some of their work soon, or put a few more recordings in their research highlight section of their web site.  In the video they suggest they may be observing amplitude compensation at increased levels of ship noise, which they could accomplish by localizing calls with their calibrated array.  For now, you can at least listen in (nearly live) and browse the many hours of ship noise.  Checking again on their website, I’m also pleased to see they are now reporting occasionally on interesting acoustic events: