IAEA’ Radioecology Laboratory work on Ocean Health. Dr Peter Swarzenski

The world’s oceans have long been perceived to contain an endless bounty and capacity to absorb all human impacts.  However, heightened pressures on marine environments caused from human population increases and shifts towards more lucrative coastal zones, eutrophication and contaminant releases have all led to the realization that the ocean’s health is compromised and under threat.  Indeed, today pollution, habitat alteration, and overfishing are considered primary threats to ocean health. While new tools to study ocean health have been developed, the ability to accurately assess the wellbeing of the ocean remains challenging, simply due to the ocean’s vastness and inherent complexities.  Further to that, climate change impacts will likely only exacerbate several of these threats.

The IAEA NAEL Radioecology Laboratory (REL) provides nuclear science-based solutions to better understand and protect heathy coastal and marine ecosystems. This is accomplished using an integrated approach that includes both experimental and field perspectives to address the flow of contaminants through ecosystems.  Ecosystem stressors most often include systemic climate-change impacts, and are uniquely identified by Member State concerns and needs.  Contaminants can range from inorganic (e.g., trace metals, radionuclides) to organic (e.g., hydrocarbons, marine toxins), and by design are examined across a board spectrum of marine life that can range from bacteria to mega fauna, such as sharks.  REL’s experimental aquaria facilitate radio-labelled tracer studies and investigations of physiological response to realistic climate change-driven temperature and pH shifts.  Current REL projects span the following coastal and marine topics: ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, marine carbon cycling, classic ecotoxicology, and marine plastics.  This presentation highlights synergistic research activities within REL, with an ‘eye’ towards new directions and challenges.

Peter Swarzenski holds a PhD in Chemical Oceanography and is Section Head of the IAEA Radioecology Laboratory (REL) in Monaco.  At REL Swarzenski oversees research on diverse marine stressors, including deoxygenation, ocean acidification, contamination, harmful algal blooms, and marine plastics.  The IAEA Environment Laboratories are the only marine laboratories in the UN system and host the Ocean Acidification –International Coordination Centre.

Prior to joining IAEA, Swarzenski worked as a research oceanographer for the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, California on marine biogeochemical processes. Recent projects addressed climate-change impacts to Pacific atolls, coastal groundwater, and Alaskan permafrost. Swarzenski applies a variety of tools in his research, including U/Th-series radiotracers and electrical geophysical methods, and has published ~200 papers.