Science

Science in Mind

Crowdsourced website to help test Pacific radiation

Ever since the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant three years ago, public fears about nuclear fallout have been high, both in Japan and increasingly in the United States. A marine chemist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution would like to channel that anxiety into information by enlisting the public to fund and participate in a project to monitor radiation levels along the West Coast, just as the isotopes ferried across the Pacific are projected to arrive this spring.

Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole, announced Tuesday the launch of ourradioactiveocean.com, a website that will allow people and communities to propose sampling sites along the Pacific coast.

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Buesseler does not expect to find unsafe levels of radiation, but he thinks the levels should be measured to allay people’s fears and to contribute to science, allowing regulators and oceanographers to get a better handle on how ocean currents travel. He is specifically interested in parts of the northern United States and Alaska, because the radioactive isotopes are projected to arrive there first.

People who propose sampling sites will need to raise $100 in seed funding initially. Then, a fund-raising Web page will be set up to gather donations to cover the full cost of testing, between $550 and $600.

“Without data, it’s easy to speculate and alarm people,” Buesseler said.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
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