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Algal blooms and degradation of coral reefs along Maui's coast have been attributed to nutrient pollution, and previous studies have suggested the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility is a major source of excess nutrients in coastal waters. Previous experiments using dye tracers showed a direct link between the facility's injection site and small submarine seeps that discharge freshwater near the coral reefs. But there are many potential sources of nitrogen, and it has been hard to show that the excess nitrogen in the water comes from the treatment plant.
"They didn't have a smoking gun to say that the nitrogen came from the sewage," said Adina Paytan, a research professor in the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz.
Paytan - UCSC - Student - Joseph - Murray
Paytan and UCSC graduate student Joseph Murray worked with U.S. Geological Survey researchers Nancy Prouty and Sara Peek on the new study, published April 3 in Scientific Reports.
"While submarine groundwater discharge is a natural process, humans are altering the composition of the water, making the reefs vulnerable to activities we do on land," Prouty said.
Researchers - Procedure - Isotopes - Structure - Skeletons
The researchers developed a procedure for analyzing nitrogen isotopes incorporated into the crystal structure of coral skeletons. Corals lay down new skeleton material in layers that can be seen in cross-section and dated like tree rings. This enabled the researchers to correlate changes in nitrogen isotopes in the corals with changes in the operations of the wastewater facility.
In addition to the implications for addressing nutrient pollution in Maui, the new findings demonstrate the power of this...
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