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Energy and Environment Directorate

Research Capabilities

Coastal Biogeochemistry

Researchers at the Marine Sciences Laboratory conducts basic and applied research focusing on understanding the behavior and fate of potentially toxic and hazardous compounds in marine and freshwater aquatic systems. The chemistry group at MSL provides specialized analytical and field services to public, private and government clients. We specialize in low- level determinations and chemical speciation of trace elements and metalloids in water, sediments and tissues. We are one of the few laboratories in the world recognized for our unique analytical and research capabilities for environmental mercury research.

Research Focus Areas and Specialties

  • Biogeochemical cycling of trace elements and metalloids in aquatic systems
  • Historical/temporal trends of contaminant loading in aquatic systems
  • Chemical fate and effects studies
  • Sediment-water and air-water exchange investigations
  • Risk-based organic contaminant analysis
  • Specialized ultra-trace level analytical methods development
  • Chemical and physical speciation studies of metals and metalloids in aquatic systems
  • Episodic and long-term contaminant monitoring programs
  • Use of natural level radionuclides to investigate environmental processes in water and sediments
  • Atmospheric deposition Studies
  • Storm water discharge studies
  • Analytical and Field Sampling Capabilities

  • Ultra-trace level analysis of trace metals and metalloids in water, sediment, and tissue
  • Determination of sediment accumulation rates and sediment mixing rates using radionuclide dating techniques
  • Determination of mercury and monomethyl mercury at sub-part per trillion levels (picograms/Liter) in water, and at sub-part per billion levels in sediments and tissues
  • Determination total gaseous, reactive gaseous, and particulate mercury in ambient air
  • Determination of the chemical speciation of arsenic, selenium, chromium and antimony in water and tissues
  • Determination of sulfur containing compounds in water and acid volatile sulfides (AVS) in sediments
  • Specializied ultra-clean sampling equipment and procedures for obtaining non-contaminated water and suspended sediment samples in aquatic systems
  • Sediment-water exchange studies using benthic flux chambers
  • State-of-the-Art Analytical Instrumentation and Facilities

  • Class-100 clean laboratory facilities for handling and processing samples for ultra-low level trace metal analyses
  • Perkin-Elmer ELAN DRC-e Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) equipped with a dynamic reaction chamber
  • Perkin-Elmer ELAN 6100 Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS)
  • (4) Tekran Model 2500 Atomic Fluorescence Spectrometers for mercury speciation analysis
  • Ortec Alpha and Canberra Gamma spectroscopy counting systems
  • Milestone Direct Mercury Analysis System (DMA-80)
  • Perkin-Elmer Optima 4300 DV Optical Emission Spectrometer
  • Perkin-Elmer AAnalyst 400 Atomic Absorption Spectrometer equipped with a hydride generation system (HG-FAAS)
  • Perkin-Elmer 5000 Flame Atomic Absorption Spectrometer equipped with a hydride generation and cold trap system (HG-FAAS)
  • Agilent 1100 series high performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) equipped with a diode array detector
  • Agilent 6890N Gas Chromatograph (GC) equipped with a dual micro electron capture detector and an 7683B autosampler
  • Leeman Labs Hydra AA automated mercury analysis system
  • Current and/or Recent Projects

    Reconstructing Trends in Hypoxia Using Multiple Paleoecological Indicators Recorded in Sediment Cores from Puget Sound, WA. There are several coastal marine areas that suffer from low oxygen content waters (hypoxia), dramatically impacting fisheries, important habitats such as seagrass beds and corals, and altering marine biodiversity. While most current hypoxia research has focused on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, there have been periods of hypoxia measured on the West Coast since the 1970s in Hood Canal, WA, a sub-basin of Puget Sound. This current research project, funded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was initiated to understand, from a historical perspective, factors which influence hypoxia formation in Hood Canal. A multi-institution research group, consisting of scientists from Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory (MSL), Texas A&M University, Bryn Athyn University, the University of Washington, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) have reconstructed the history of oxygen levels in two major basins of the Puget Sound (Main Basin and Hood Canal). This group, led by researchers Jill Brandenberger and Eric Crecelius from MSL, used a suite of environmental indicators in sediment cores to evaluate if periods of low oxygen levels (hypoxia) have existed in the past in deep waters of the two basins and if changes in land use in the last 100-150 year has led to substantial impacts on water quality of the system. The major findings from this research suggest that: a) oxygen limitation has occurred substantially and over extended periods of time in the past in the Hood Canal/Puget Sound System, b) for most of the 20th century, the majority of the Puget Sound system (including Hood Canal) has been under a more oxygenated “stance” with respect to prior periods, and c) major changes in land use beginning around the end of the 19th century have had a substantial impact on the sources of organic matter being transferred to the Puget Sound.

    For more information see:

    Getting to the Core of the Hypoxia Problem in Washington's Hood Canal

    GEOTRACES Mercury Intercalibration Study. This research program is an NSF sponsored collaborative research program involving four Co-PI’s: Dr. Carl Lamborg (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), Dr. Robert Mason (University of Connecticut), Dr. Chad Hammerschmidt (Wright State University), and Dr. Gary Gill (Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory). This investigation will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and laboratory comparison of the determination of mercury (Hg) species in seawater. The study group will participate in two GEOTRACES Intercalibration cruises in the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Mercury Intercalibration program is a critical first step prior to full fledged GEOTRACES cruise activities, so that the various investigators studying the chemical oceanography of Hg in the context of that project, which is intended to be decentralized and of such scope that no one lab would likely be capable of completing the whole effort, may compare their results.

    Hg is present at very low concentrations in the open ocean (low pM) and is subject to a complex biogeochemical cycling. To understand this cycling, determination of the major species of Hg found in the ocean (mercuric ion, elemental Hg, monomethylHg and dimethylHg; Hg(II), Hg°, MMHg and DMHg, respectively), is necessary but poses daunting analytical challenges. These forms can be volatile and photoactive, and their low concentrations make even small amounts of contamination ruinous. But there are important benefits to studying Hg in the ocean, including increased understanding of the source and bioaccumulation dynamics of a toxic metal, the formation of organometallic compounds (including those of Ge, Se, Po, As) in the ocean, assessing the impact of an anthropogenically mobilized element, and the possible development of a paleoproductivity proxy. The project will consist of both a field component (participation in the 2 cruises) and shore based component (refinement of some analytical techniques, distribution of samples and statistical examination of the data). In the laboratory, we will test new techniques for lowering the detection limit for MMHg in seawater, the cleanliness of bottles made from plastics other than Teflon, and the prospects of long-term storage of samples collected during the cruises for total and speciation measurements. At sea, we will provide rapid feedback on GEOTRACES sampling cleanliness through total, reactive and volatile Hg measurements, determine if sampling sequence affects Hg species concentration results and collect subsamples to distribute to at least 11 other colleagues from North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

    Atmospheric Deposition of Contaminants to Puget Sound. Evidence is mounting that atmospheric emissions from combustion sources remain major contributors to air pollution of urban systems. Each day tons of toxic chemicals are emitted into the air from mobile, industrial, and commercial sources. The pathways for transporting these toxics to Puget Sound waters range from direct deposition on the water surface to deposition on the landscape and subsequent mobilization during runoff events. A complete understanding of the biogeochemical transport pathways of these deposited airborne toxics is required in order to best protect and restore the health of Puget Sound as deposited toxins may accumulate in the water, sediments, and/or biota. Currently, very little is known about the introduction of contaminants from atmospheric deposition to Puget Sound. In response to this data gap, the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) and the U. S. Navy collaborated to fund a two year study on atmospheric deposition fluxes for select metals, PAHs, PBDE, and biomarkers used to conduct source apportionment of the PAH deposition. The main goal of this project is to collect and analyze atmospheric deposition samples to better understand the atmospheric deposition rates to the waters of Puget Sound. Understanding the temporal trends of combustion sources and subsequent deposition chemistry is thus vital to the purpose of developing effective environmental policies.

    Project ENVVEST. A watershed-based assessment of stream and storm water pollution runoff in the Sinclair -Dyes Inlet watershed of the Puget Sound was conducted as part of Project ENVironmental InVESTment (ENVVEST) performed by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in partnership with the U.S. EPA, WA Department of Ecology, the Suquamish Tribe, Kitsap County, Kitsap County Heath District, the City of Bremerton, and other local stakeholders. Contaminant concentrations in representative streams and outfalls discharging into Sinclair and Dyes Inlets were evaluated during 18 storm events and wet/dry baseflow conditions between Nov. 2002 and May 2005. Samples were analyzed for metals (mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, silver, and zinc), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), nutrients (total inorganic nitrogen and total phosphorus), fecal coliform bacteria, and ancillary parameters to determine event mean concentrations (EMCs) as a function of total event rainfall and upstream land use and cover (LULC). An empirical model was developed to estimate constituent concentrations in streams and outfalls as defined by a step-function based on storm intensity and level of development. The empirical model was combined with a calibrated and verified hydrology model for the watershed and used to predict contaminant loadings from a wide range of land uses draining into Sinclair/Dyes Inlet. An evaluation of the emprical model was obtained by comparing predicted contaminant levels to contaminant levels measured in stormwater sampled from selected watersheds on Bainbridge Island during the fall of 2008. The evaluation was based on the probability of exceeding the modeled range.


    Energy and Environment

    Core Research Areas