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Exploring New Frontiers in Marine Radioisotope Tracing – Adapting to New Opportunities and Challenges

Radioisotopes have been used in earth and environmental sciences for over 150 years and provide unique tools to study environmental processes in great detail from the cellular level through to the oceanic basin scale. These nuclear techniques have been employed to understand coastal and marine ecosystems via laboratory and field studies in terms of how aquatic organisms respond to environmental stressors, including temperature, pH, nutrients, metals, organic anthropogenic contaminants, and biological toxins. Global marine issues, such as the warming of the water in our oceans, de-oxygenation, plastic pollution, ocean acidification, increased duration, and the intensity of harmful toxic algal blooms (HABs), and coastal contamination. These are all impacting marine environments, thereby imposing various environmental and economic risks.


Being able to reliably assess the condition of coastal and marine ecosystems, and how they may respond to future disturbances, can provide vital information for society for the sustainable management of their marine environments. This paper summarizes the historical use of radiotracers in these systems, describes how existing techniques of radio-ecological tracing can be developed for specific current environmental issues and provides information on emerging issues that would benefit from current and new radiotracer methods. Current challenges with using radio-ecological tracers and opportunities are highlighted, as well as opportunities to maximize the application of these methods to greatly increase the ability of environmental managers to conduct evidence-based management of coastal and marine ecosystems.


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Source: Cresswell T, Metian M, Fisher NS, Charmasson S, Hansman RL, Bam W, Bock C and Swarzenski PW (2020) Exploring New Frontiers in Marine Radioisotope Tracing – Adapting to New Opportunities and Challenges. Front. Mar. Sci. 7:406. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2020.00406