Science Diary: Water - Metals: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Sep 08, 2008
Scientist: Adina Paytan

Science Diary: Water - Metals

Science Diary: Water - Metals
A beach sign warns against swimming due to water contamination. But is that notice up to date?

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"Regardless of the weather, there's always people swimming in the water they risk being exposed to all sorts of bacteria that can cause diseases."

If a beach sign warns that water is contaminated and unsafe for swimming, you want to be sure that information is up-to-date and accurate. But current methods of measuring ocean pollution take time. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Dr. Adina Paytan is an oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She focuses her research on beach contamination.

"We try to determine where this bacterial pollution is coming from. This is usually done by this county. They take samples and measure them for something that is called fecal indicator bacteria. These are bacteria that themselves don't really cause people to be sick, but they are easy to measure, and they relate very well to incidents of sickness. They take the samples to the lab, and then, only the next day, they can count them and tell if the water was polluted."

Dr. Paytan has found that there may be a faster way to test whether ocean water is safe to swim in.

"There are hints that there might be some metals that seem to be related to high levels of bacteria. In Southern California we've found that barium seems to be high every time we had high bacteria levels. Then we can potentially measure these metals instead of the bacteria, which can be done in half an hour, can even be done on the spot."

On the spot testing would allow for more accurately timed beach closures. Our latest project is a competition for third to sixth graders. Check out

Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation.