The good and bad: New study sheds light on health of Puget Sound

June 1, 2018 | Burke Museum

Foraminifera, or forams for short, are single-celled organisms that live on the sea floor and are extremely sensitive to their surrounding environment. The shells of these tiny organisms—less than 1/2 mm in size—capture environmental insights like water temperature and pollutants—providing a snapshot in time of the health of the surrounding water.

A recent study conducted by Burke Museum paleontologists found both good and bad news for the health of Commencement and Elliott Bays in the Puget Sound watershed.

Posted: April 5, 2018

Dr. Liz Nesbitt, Burke Museum curator of invertebrate and micropaleontology, and Postdoctoral Researcher Dr. Ruth Martin, who leads the Burke's Puget Sound Foraminifera Lab, conducted independent studies using Washington State Department of Ecology sediment samples and associated water and environmental data. 

"By looking at their shells, and by looking at what forams live in an area, we can read the environment when they were actually living there," said Ruth. “The good news is that we’ve seen some increase in the diversity of foraminifera, which is always a good sign when you get more species moving in."

"The bad news is that we are seeing an increase in the proportion of those shells that are showing signs that they’re being dissolved," she said. "The only thing that can do that is excess acidity, corrosiveness of the water. So even though pollutants are being cleaned up and the formanifera appear to be responding, even slightly, there’s still something wrong."

Learn more about the Puget Sound Foram Research Project.

Study Information:
"Good News and Bad News in Two Highly Industrialized Puget Sound, Washington (U.S.A.) Embayments" Ruth A. Martin, Elizabeth A. Nesbitt. Journal of Foraminiferal Research, 47:4, 372-388. October 2017

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