British Columbia

Fukushima radiation on B.C. coast measured by crowdsourcing

People along B.C.'s coast are being asked to step in where governments in Canada and the U.S. have not -- to measure radiation in B.C.'s ocean waters.

Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution recruite 'citizen scientists' to collect data

Ocean currents act as a conveyor, carrying debris and radiation-contaminated water from Japan towards North America. (NOAA)

People along the British Columbia coast are being asked to step in where governments in Canada and the U.S. have not — to measure radiation from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in B.C.'s ocean waters.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., are calling on the public to collect data from B.C.'s oceans for a crowd-funded research project.

The website is recruiting "citizen scientists," ordinary people who can raise $600 for a home testing kit and then take water samples to return to Woods Hole for analysis.

When you don't know, people can speculate all kinds of things- Ken Buesseler, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

"I think it's important to get measurements, and since the governments aren't doing it, we thought the public has a large concern we'd ask them help collect and fund the sampling," said Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researcher Ken Buesseler.

Although it has been urged, Buesseler says there is incomplete monitoring, and little data, for radiation in Pacific coastal waters from either Canadian or American authorities.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada have taken measurements along the coast up to 1500 km west of Vancouver for cesium 134.

Isotopes from the meltdown three years ago were predicted by some to reach North America this year.

"There's a great alarm, when you don't know. People can speculate all kinds of things," said Buesseler.

Early results appear to be good news.

Eight samples are already in, exclusively showing isotopes from natural sources, or nuclear weapons testing from decades ago.

"But we think it's important to monitor that so people have some confidence that the waters are safe," Buesseler said.

He said from the available models and data, levels of Cesium-134 are well below levels considered safe to drink. Scientists do not believe radiation from Fukushima will cross the ocean in anything more than trace amounts.

He said the institute decided to fill the gap in information because dire warnings online of the potential impact of radiation from Fukushima was generating too much public fear, without any data to base it on.


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is located in Woods Hole, Maine. In fact, it is located in Woods Hole, Mass.
    Feb 27, 2014 9:35 AM PT

with files from the CBC's Keith Vass