Science Diary: Water - Tracking: 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: Oct 15, 2008
Scientist: Adina Paytan

Science Diary: Water - Tracking

Science Diary: Water - Tracking
Without the benefit of a barcode scanner, ecologists use chemical tracers to track the movement of water.


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“Was it fresher, or as salty, or the pH, was it similar to the sea water?”

If you’ve ever tracked a package, you’ll know that a parcel doesn’t magically appear at your doorstep. There’s a place of origin and a network of stops along the way. Well, the same can be said for water. Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Adina Paytan is an oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She uses measurements and chemical tests to help track the movement of water. At a park in Santa Cruz, she’s sharing some of her water tracking skills with a group of high school students. But why track water? Stay tuned.

“We want to track water, because different water has different qualities to it. This water may affect what organisms can live in that water, if it’s going to be polluted or not, if we’re going to have bacteria in that water. So, when different types of water are mixing, we want to know where they come from and what they bring into a lake or into an ocean. Seawater has a lot of salt. The river water doesn’t have a lot of salt. The sewage water has high nutrients or phosphorous, nitrogen, all of these elements. Water that comes through the ground has some connection with the soil and may leach certain elements from the soil, so it will bring other tracers with it. So, using these different tracers, we can say something about how much water comes from each of these sources.”

To learn more about Dr. Paytan’s work in water ecology, check out our latest project at, that’s Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.