Pollution Record Detection Using Laser Ablation Mass Spectrometry

Focus Area

Water Quality/Wetlands


Natural Resources




Under $99,000


Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

Use Laser ablation/mass spectrometry (LA/MS) to detect historic metal and PAH pollution incorporated in calcareous skeleton of Coral & Mollusks with a precision of days to months. Coral samples from Hawaii, and Guam will be collected from near highway outfalls to detect highway runoff pollution, with distant control sites. Objectives:

  1. Prove the LAMS technique can be applied to coral and Mollusk species to detect run off pollutants.
  2. Determine the degree of precision which may be expected in replicate samples of the ratios of various pollutants to calcium matrix.
  3. Determine background levels of heavy metal pollutants.
  4. Determine seasonal, monthly and daily variations in pollutant/calcium ratios.
  5. Investigate area extent and pattern of highway runoff pollution and its relationship to season and currents.

Urgency and Payoff

Terrestrial run off is a long term problem for hard corals.  Coral reefs are suffering degradation at an alarming rate.  We propose to use UC Davis LA/MS facilities to adapt the existing fish otolith method (LA/MS)to sample and record the calcium/pollutant ratio to coral and other invertebrates. In the otolith technique, microscopic sections of the calcareous otolith are burned by laser (under a microscope) within the daily, monthly or seasonal growth rings and the vaporized material taken through a Mass spectrometer where the ratio of calcium to pollutant is detected. This survey technique may be used to document the fate and transport of pollutants within ecosystem, and to provide estimates of the extent and severity of pollutants over time and area. It is rather like sediment testing but with the added advantage that it is related to actual uptake and may be correlated to organism growth.

Suggested By

William Van Peeters, SF Resource Center FHWA DOT, Telephone: 415-744-0116

[email protected]