Category Archives: Oceanic

Insignificant Environmental and Public Health Risk from Fukushima in North America 8 Years On

By Jay T. Cullen

Summary infographic for the Fukushima InFORM project including our measurements in North America, Japanese measurements, historical data and safety guidelines.

I am writing this post is to bring the public up to date on monitoring efforts of my research program into the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident on environmental and public health here in North America. This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing work carried out by the Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring (InFORM) project. Eight years since the peak in releases to the environment our project continues to measure radioisotopes released from the FDNPP that have the potential to present radiological health risks to living things. InFORM makes measurements of levels in seawater and common marine organisms as consumption of seafood is one of the most likely ways that residents of North America could be exposed to Fukushima derived contamination. We have found that:

  • Maximum contamination levels in seawater from Fukushima measured in waters offshore (~1500 km) and onshore British Columbia are now known to be about 8 to 10-fold lower than levels present in the North Pacific during the height of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  These levels are roughly 1000-fold below the maximum allowable drinking water standards for these isotopes.
  • Levels in Pacific salmon returning to North America have not changed in a statistically significant way since before the disaster and are lower than peak levels measured in the 1960’s.
  •  As was reported in 2015 in this comprehensive study by Health Canada and backed up by measurements made by the international scientific community the release of radioisotopes from Fukushima will have no measurable impact on the health of the marine ecosystem in the northeast Pacific nor on public health in North America.

Eight years after this disaster it is important to remember those lost in the tsunami and those still displaced from their homes and communities struggling to recover.

Offshore and Onshore Citizen Science Monitoring of Seawater Contamination

The levels of radionuclide contamination in seawater is important to understand as the levels that ultimately are found in marine organisms is set by seawater levels.  InFORM recently published a peer-reviewed paper in Environmental Science and Technology summarizing our results to date. Offshore levels of Fukushima derived isotopes have peaked and are now decreasing at our westernmost stations 1000-1500 kilometers from the North American coast. The peak levels are well below levels measured in the same waters during the 1950’s and 1960’s when atmospheric nuclear weapons tests were common.  Our study area is shown in the figure below along with the prevailing currents that brought the contaminated seawater to North America.

Study area showing the onshore-offshore sampling line occupied by the InFORM project with the support of Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Station P26 is ~1500 kilometers from the coast of North America.

​Every month since about December 2014 volunteer citizen scientists in 15 coastal communities up and down the shores of British Columbia have collected seawater samples at the beach and returned them to our laboratories for analysis.  The sampling network is shown below.

Coastal seawater monitoring stations in British Columbia.

Since monitoring began coastal seawater concentrations have increased as the Fukushima ​contamination plume arrives.  For the first time we can report that contamination levels have ceased increasing near the coast and are beginning to diminish. The activity of 137Cs leveled off at ~4 Bq per cubic meter of seawater which is about 2-4 times the background from weapons testing that existed here before Fukushima. Both the open ocean and coastal monitoring data are summarized in the figures below.

Monthly averaged 137Cs detected in seawater in Bq per cubic meter collected along the coast of BC from 2014-2018.

Levels of 137Cs in seawater (Bq per cubic meter) measured in samples collected by our citizen scientists along the BC coast compared to maximum levels measured offshore, weapons testing fallout maximum activities in the eastern Pacific in early 1960’s and Canada’s action level for the isotope in drinking water.

Offshore levels of 137Cs peaked at a little less than 10 Bq per cubic meter and have been diminishing as less contaminated water moves across the Pacific from the west. Coastal activities have peaked at lower levels likely because freshwater runoff from the continent is less contaminated than the seawater and dilutes the Fukushima contamination.

Monitoring of Pacific Salmon

Since 2014 we have collected and analyzed ~100 Pacific salmon and steel head trout per year returning to rivers up and down the BC coast from the Pacific Ocean.  There has been no statistically significant increase in the levels of human-made isotopes in the fish since before the Fukushima disaster. Below we plot the maximum levels we have detected in fish returning to BC from 2011-2017 compared to levels measured in Pacific salmon during the 1960’s when weapons fallout levels were highest surface waters.

Maximum levels of 137Cs detected in BC salmon post Fukushima compared to levels in Pacific salmon in the mid-1960’s owing to weapons testing fallout.


On average our Pacific salmon have ~0.2 Bq per kilogram wet weight and it is important to note that there is no statistically significant different in the average contamination level in the fish in years 2011-2017. We are only showing the maximum value detected in each year and have not shown how much variability exists in the yearly data for clarity. Levels of contamination in the 1960’s were >10-fold higher than our average levels in years post-Fukushima. The dose of ionizing radiation experienced by consumers of Pacific fish and shellfish is still dominated by the presence of naturally occurring radioisotopes in the Uranium and Thorium decay series (principally 210-Polonium) and remains well below levels that might represent a health risk.

We will continue our monitoring efforts likely through the end of this calendar year and continue to report our results as they are generated. As always I am happy to answer any questions related to the project and our findings.

Voyage Reflections

By Chloe Immonen
25 July 2018 @ 10:34

Ice in hand
Sea ice!

Unfortunately, shaft/cycloconverter (fancy pieces of machinery in the engine room) failures meant that science operations stopped a day early. We were forced to steam straight to Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly Barrow) to avoid being stranded on a station in the middle of the ocean. Thankfully, this allowed us to spend that day packing up all of the equipment and get a good night’s sleep.

I’m increasingly aware of how incredibly rare it is for undergraduate students to participate in research cruises and I am even more grateful to have been given this opportunity. It is something I will cherish for a long time and I cannot wait to get back on a ship. I love doing science on boats. Despite rarely getting more than four hours of sleep at a time, being cloaked in endless fog, and missing three of the nicest weeks of the summer in Victoria, it was so worth it for this incredible experience of lifetime. The number of times I found myself BEAMING all alone, basking in how happy I felt, was a little ridiculous.

Laurier CTD
Preparing the CTD rosette for deployment.

All of the tough things about being at sea made the positive things that much more welcome. A day of sun, a whale sighting, making connections with people from all walks of life, pensive life chats at 04:30 staring into the still-lit horizon, dancing to Motown hits while sampling from the rosette, hot tub soaks sailing past the Aleutians, gaining practical skills and knowledge associated with jobs I want to pursue, the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had, getting to see sea ice in person, collecting rocks from the bottom of the Chukchi (yes, I have been told that getting excited about this makes me a nerd), and even the daunting/rigorous arctic crossing ceremony (this shellback is no longer a lowly tadpole!!) – all of these things outweighed the trying times by far.

Arctic clams
Clams and critters from Van Veen grab samples.

Final tally of wildlife seen:

  • >3 pods of grey whales in various locations
  • We almost hit a grey whale but the Captain saw it in time and Andre-Ann steered away perfectly!
  • Breaching grey whale
  • Countless bald eagles and a humpback whale coming into Dutch Harbor (seen from the hot tub)
  • Many puffins, parasitic jaegers, gliders, fancy arctic ducks
  • >4 albatross
  • Lots of benthic organisms pulled up from the ocean floor during Van Veen mud grabs
  • One adorable baby seal – the size of a loaf of bread!! It swam right up to the ship while we were on a station!

It was too foggy on our last day on the ship to helicopter off so we took our final glances of the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier from the “safety” of a Zodiac. I don’t think this is the last time the Laurier and I will cross paths.

Laurier zodiac


Read all of the posts from Chloe’s voyage from Victoria, BC to Utqiagvik, AK: Bitter-sweet Bon Voyage, Fueled for Exploration, Into the Storm, Friday the 13th was the Luckiest Day Ever 

Friday the 13th was the Luckiest Day Ever

by Chloe Immonen
16 July 2018 @ 13:19

Bering Sea
The Bering Sea

I am incredibly sleepy. We have now crossed into the Bering Sea after stopping in Dutch Harbour to pick up the American scientists. Leading up to Friday, July 13, I knew I had to finish taking 38 samples from the underway loop running through the ship, saving five samples for after Dutch Harbor. I had not had longer than two consecutive hours of sleep for the previous five days. I worked hard to finish off the last samples before finally having a bit of relaxation time with Gina and Shea. We hung out on the upper decks and the bridge, where we spotted loads of seabirds (puffins and albatross were the coolest) and tons of whales (orcas, greys, and humpbacks). The light was beautiful! Approaching the Aleutians, we hopped in the hot tub to watch the gorgeous scenery pass by. It was an amazing evening.

Hiking Dutch
Gina and Sarah hiking along the ridge in Dutch Harbor.

In Dutch, we made the most of being on land by going on one of the most stunning hikes I’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking followed by going to the Norwegian Rat bar in town.

The next two days were filled with preparing for the beginning of stations, helping the American scientists set up their lab space, and the Shellbacks (those science and crew members who have crossed the Arctic Circle by sea before) explaining some of the upcoming tasks for us Tadpoles (those science and crew members who have NOT crossed the Arctic Circle by sea before) to partake in. I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to tell you any details, but the tasks have certainly consumed some of our time and energy.

Read more from Chloe’s journey across the NE Pacific: Bitter-sweet Bon Voyage, Fueled for Exploration, Into the Storm

Into the Storm

by Chloe Immonen
July 7, 2018 @ 18:02

I finally experienced seasickness. I had begun to think that I was just going to escape it altogether but after five days of spending hours on end focusing on filling resin columns, taping them carefully, moving around, and lifting heavy water samples in the lab with very few windows, all while the ship tilts back-and-forth to some pretty wild extremes finally got to me after all. Sorry to be graphic, but I threw up once, felt immediately better than I had all day, but not good enough to eat until over 24 hours later. I have been taking naps whenever possible and drinking lots of water, both of which have been helping immensely. I still don’t sleep more than two hours at a time, but my samples have been running much more smoothly now (thanks to Magic Wrap), so that is a bonus.

As I spend more time with the crew, I’m finding every single person to be so kind and enjoyable to be around. The crew on the bridge now know that I want to be informed whenever they see whales and it has already paid off! As we were deploying an underway CTD [a reusable instrument to determine ocean temperature and salinity] off the aft deck, a pod of sperm whales was out on the starboard side of the ship.

Everyone is also curious about the projects that I’m working on. I love getting to tell them and ask them about their lives and their rolls on the ship as well. It seems like quite the crazy life they all lead. Most of the time, they work four weeks on, and four weeks off, but the Arctic voyage is six weeks on, and six weeks off. My favourite question to ask is what everyone likes to do in their time off because the answers are all so unique – from scuba diving and foraging for mushrooms to pottery and horseback-riding, everyone has a cool hobby to entertain them in their long stretches of time off.

Laurier fjordShea and I tended to the incubations on the helicopter deck for a couple hours this afternoon. I am stoked to be gaining skills in his line of work. The rest of the time, I was running my own samples, or sleeping with one break for dinner (feeling good enough to eat 😊 ).

Today marked the beginning of the on-board bingo craze. Nearly every person on the ship participates, they announce ~15 numbers per day just after lunch and each round, they go for a different shape (horizontal or vertical lines, wine glass, cactus, blackout, etc). The prizes are quite extravagant – there’s an expensive coffee-maker, high end scotch, and camping equipment – just to name a few!

Tonight is another movie night with unlimited popcorn. We are watching a film called ‘Annihilation’. I am mostly going to attend for the popcorn and the extra-strong G&T’s.

Not too much else to report here! I’m still having a wonderful time at sea regardless of feeling ill and not getting much sleep.


Read more from Chloe’s voyage to the Arctic: Bitter-sweet Bon Voyage, Fueled for Exploration

Fueled for Exploration

by Chloe Immonen
9 July 2018, 7:30 pm

WWII plane-1
The RAF Dakota 576 crash site just outside of Port Hardy.

Yesterday I awoke in Port Hardy and was told we would be spending the day docked while the ship refueled. This meant that 13 hours was needed to top up the measly one-million-liter diesel tank beneath us. This also meant that the crew and supernumeraries (aka the scientists) were allowed to disembark and explore Port Hardy. My roommate, Gina, and I went for a hike, recommended by a local, to the site of a WWII plane crash. The hike was through a lush, muddy, and mosquito-ridden rain forest and it felt amazing to stretch our legs and smell some trees. Gina, a Vancouver Island native, told me which berries were safe to eat along the way and I tried salmon berries for the first time! Seemed like a genetically-modified cross between raspberries and oranges to me, but they were very tasty.

After returning from our hike, Shea and I left again to visit the hardware store to replenish some supplies we were both short on. In an attempt to solve my leaky column problem, I bought ten more rolls of electrical tape, and something called “Magic Wrap” which claimed to form a rubber casing around a cylinder and stay water-tight. I have now tried it out with the next seven samples and it seems to be working – THANK GOODNESS.

We then returned to the ship to assemble Shea’s incubator on the helicopter pad. His experiments are looking at the effect of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on phytoplankton growth. We bubble air with present-day atmospheric constituent concentrations (CO~ 410 ppm) and air with one of the projected constituent concentrations for the year 2100 (CO~ 750 ppm) into separate containers holding the same diversity of phytoplankton and we will soon see how the organisms react to increased levels of the greenhouse gas.

We still had a couple more hours to kill so I went for one last jog on land among the pretty rock faces and lush wildflowers along the highway. As we ate dinner, the ship started to move again which indicated it was time for me to get to work. I processed a few samples over the course of the night, waking every hour to check for leakage and to change out fresh carboys.

ARGO float deployment-1
Preparing the ARGO float for deployment.

I am getting more and more confident with the lab protocols, remembering the crew members’ names, and navigating routes around the ship. I am constantly in awe of the stunning scenery surrounding us. Watching the waves interact, the sky change colours at dawn and dusk, and keeping an eye out for whales doesn’t cease to entertain me. I remain endlessly grateful for the chance to fulfill one of my dreams and take this trip of a lifetime.

Speaking of dream come true, I am about to go take another sample, watch the deployment of an ARGO float, eat a strawberry tarte, and then watch the sunset from the hot tub. Goodnight!

Read more from Chloe’s journey on the across the NE Pacific: Bitter-sweet Bon Voyage