U.S. EPA commits funding to support PSI’s role in Puget Sound science

The Puget Sound Institute and Puget Sound Partnership are located at the Center for Urban Waters on the eastern shore of Tacoma's Thea Foss Waterway.

The Puget Sound Institute and Puget Sound Partnership are located at the Center for Urban Waters on the eastern shore of Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway.

A collaboration between the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute (PSI), Oregon State University, Northern Economics, and the Puget Sound Partnership has been selected by the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the region’s science program. The four-year cooperative agreement provides an anticipated $7.25 million to create and communicate timely and policy-relevant science to support and enhance new recovery strategies. The collaboration also strengthens monitoring and modeling programs and identifies and promotes regional science priorities.

The Puget Sound Partnership will receive and administer the primary award and other partners will receive sub-awards from PSP over the four-year project period.

“As Puget Sound continues to feel the impacts from a changing climate and a rapidly growing population, it is more important than ever that policy decisions are grounded in solid and accessible science” said PSI Director Joel Baker. “We will need the creativity and energy of the region’s diverse science community to meet the challenges of restoring and protecting Puget Sound.”

In addition to contributing targeted technical support, this award provides PSI and its partners the capacity to explore emerging issues, to combine thinking across topics, and to connect with other regional, national, and international ecosystem recovery efforts.

The new funding continues work already underway at PSI to connect the dots between scientific findings around the region. “The goal is to combine big picture, ecosystem-scale thinking with practical solutions,” Baker said. “Given the thousands of scientists and practitioners working to understand the health of Puget Sound, synthesis and analysis is a critical need.”

A strong area of focus will include the region’s newly established Implementation Strategies, a series of inter-agency recovery plans funded by the EPA’s National Estuary Program. The Puget Sound Partnership will help to integrate these strategies across a broad range of agencies and other groups.

The grant also expands the role of social science and communications in the Puget Sound recovery process. Partnerships with Oregon State University and Northern Economics will support an improved understanding of how humans interact and engage with the Puget Sound ecosystem. Social scientists with those organizations will work closely with Puget Sound’s Local Integrating Organizations to develop cost-benefit frameworks and other decision-making tools. Funding for communication supports continued development of informative science articles in PSI’s Salish Sea Currents magazine series on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Funding for the collaboration begins in October 2017 and is slated to run through 2021.

The Puget Sound Institute was established at the University of Washington Tacoma in 2010 to identify and catalyze the science driving Puget Sound and Salish Sea ecosystem recovery. Since its founding, PSI has advanced our understanding of the region through synthesis, original research and communication in support of state and federal agencies, tribes and other organizations working in the region.

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New project searches for contaminants of emerging concern

PSI research scientist Andy James

PSI research scientist Andy James

PSI research scientist Andy James has been funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program to identify contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in the waters of Puget Sound.

There are literally thousands of man-made chemicals known as CECs circulating in local waters, but very little is known about their impacts on wildlife. They are often found in tiny concentrations and can include residuals from pharmaceuticals and personal care products that are flushed through treated wastewater.

James’ project will extend through May 2019 and will focus on the non-targeted sampling of marine waters and shellfish, as well as selected streams in Puget Sound. James will use mass spectrometry to analyze samples with an eye toward identifying CECs that might have the potential to cause risk to aquatic organisms.

Collaborators include researchers at the University of Washington Center for Urban Waters, the Department of Ecology and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Funding Amount: $200,000.

Project duration: Now through May 2019.

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Detecting organic contaminants in highway runoff and fish tissue

This much we know: Stormwater is nasty stuff. The state of Washington has called it one of the leading threats to the Puget Sound ecosystem. It can kill salmon within hours and it contributes to all kinds of health problems for species ranging from orcas to humans. What we don’t know, however, is exactly what’s in it.

Rain and snowmelt wash an untold number of toxics into our waterways, but there is no such thing as typical stormwater. Its chemical makeup varies from place to place and depends on local pollutants, from petroleum to PCBs.

That’s a problem for scientists who want to understand how the chemicals in stormwater affect area wildlife. Knowing what’s in a particular mix of stormwater could help explain exactly which chemicals are lethal, or why some species of salmon die after exposure and not others. It could also provide a better understanding of where the chemicals come from. How much do automobiles contribute to the problem? Do the nastiest chemicals then come from leaking oil or car tires, or the asphalt from the roads themselves? Or somewhere else? The questions are seemingly infinite.

To meet this challenge, several scientists at the Puget Sound Institute and the University of Washington Center for Urban Waters are developing new techniques for analyzing stormwater’s chemical composition.

They recently published a paper outlining some of these techniques in the journal Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts. The paper was co-authored with collaborators from NOAA and the Washington Stormwater Center. The authors used “time-of-flight” mass spectrometry to identify novel compounds in runoff and fish tissues that were present in amounts as small as the parts per billion. Work is still underway, but so far the authors have found compounds ranging from the usual suspects like petroleum products to DEET and caffeine. “Further characterization of highway runoff and fish tissues,” the paper reads, “suggests that many novel or poorly characterized organic contaminants exist in urban stormwater runoff and exposed biota.”

Citation:

Du, B., Lofton, J. M., Peter, K., Gipe, A. D., James, C. A., McIntyre, J. K., Scholz, N.L., Baker, J.E. & Kolodziej, E. P. (2017). Development of Suspect and Non-Target Screening Methods for Detection of Organic Contaminants in Highway Runoff and Fish Tissue with High-Resolution Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry. Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.

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Increasing adult mortality in Puget Sound herring may contribute to population declines

PSI’s lead ecosystem ecologist Tessa Francis is co-author of a 2017 paper linking increasing adult mortality of Puget Sound herring with regional population declines in the species. The authors report that natural mortality among herring four years and older has doubled in Puget Sound since 1973, suggesting a possible connection to declines at spawning sites near Cherry Point and Squaxin Pass.

The article is published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science and is co-authored by Margaret Siple (lead author) of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington (UW SAFS), Andrew Shelton of NOAA Fisheries, Tessa Francis of PSI, Dayv Lowry and Adam Lindquist of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Tim Essington of UW SAFS.

Citation:

Margaret C. Siple, Andrew O. Shelton, Tessa B. Francis, Dayv Lowry, Adam P. Lindquist, Timothy E. Essington; Contributions of adult mortality to declines of Puget Sound Pacific herring, ICES Journal of Marine Science, , fsx094, https://doi.org/10.1093/icesjms/fsx094

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Year in review: 2016

Winter sunset alpenglow on Mt Baker and the North Cascades. Copyright: LoweStock

Winter sunset alpenglow on Mt Baker and the North Cascades. Copyright: LoweStock

This year has been as busy as any we have had since our founding in 2010. As we look forward to year seven (!) of our organization, we have put together a sort of highlight reel of accomplishments.

At various points, PSI scientists worked to prioritize emerging contaminants in our waterways. We studied the health of forage fish populations, analyzed eelgrass abundance and brought together key scientific findings for Puget Sound’s marine and nearshore. 

Most recently, our team began helping to develop new state and federal Implementation Strategies that will prioritize future Puget Sound cleanup efforts (you can read more about the Implementation Strategies in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound).

Through it all, we have kept you informed with dozens of articles in our magazine Salish Sea Currents, as well as many new papers in scientific journals. After a strong 2016, we believe that science is more vital than ever to Puget Sound recovery. We look forward to building on our accomplishments in 2017.

View some of PSI’s research and products.

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Implementation strategies will target Puget Sound ‘Vital Signs’

Implementation strategies are a framework to improve the heartbeat of Puget Sound

Implementation strategies are a framework to improve the heartbeat of Puget Sound

When a scientist wades into an eelgrass bed or measures the weight of a Chinook salmon, their connection to the environment is clear. Much of what we know as the ‘scientific process’ takes place on the ground at a local scale. Measurements and observations are made and extrapolated. Scientists get their feet wet.

But what do you do when you are studying an entire ecosystem? In the case of Puget Sound, you can’t wade — or even see – the whole thing. To some degree, such a large system is an abstraction. It is infinitely complex and unknowable, with thousands of species and countless other variables.

Here at the Puget Sound Institute, our scientists conduct plenty of on-the-ground research, but we also look at this big picture. In the fall of 2016 our team began working closely with other scientists funded by the EPA to establish what are known as Implementation Strategies. These strategies will identify and apply solutions to improve Puget Sound’s overall Vital Signs, a series of indicators established by the Puget Sound Partnership to measure the region’s health.

It is part of a “learn and adjust” approach known as adaptive management (read more about adaptive management on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound). Adaptive management is gaining traction for ecosystem conservation worldwide and has played a central role in state and federal Puget Sound cleanup efforts since 2007.

PSI’s role will help to synthesize and analyze the state of the science for many of the Vital Sign indicators, and will provide recommendations for science-based solutions aimed at improving them. Watch for stories about the process in our Salish Sea Currents series in the coming weeks and months.

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New funding for Salish Sea herring research

Rhinocerus auklet with sand lance by Phil Green/The Nature Conservancy

Rhinoceros auklet with sand lance by Phil Green/The Nature Conservancy. Photo courtesy of SeaDoc.

PSI’s Tessa Francis is co-leader of a joint US and Canadian team that has received funding to analyze threats to Pacific Herring in the Salish Sea. Funding of just over $89,000 was granted by the SeaDoc Society and will help the group develop a comprehensive Salish Sea herring conservation and management plan.

Francis teams up with project co-leader Dayv Lowry of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Additional collaborators include USGS, NOAA, Oregon State University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Lummi Tribe, the Cowichan Tribe, The Nature Conservancy, and Q’ul-lhanumutsun Aquatic Resources Society.

Read more about the project at SeaDoc’s website. 

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A comparative study of human well-being indicators across three Puget Sound regions

Puget Sound Institute social scientist Kelly Biedenweg has published a comparative study of three well-being indicators in the Puget Sound region. The article appears in the August issue of the journal Society & Natural Resources.

Abstract:

Simple frameworks that generalize the best metrics of human well- being related to the natural environment have rarely been empirically tested for their representativeness across diverse regions. This study tested the hypothesis that metrics of human well-being related to environmental change are context specific by identifying priority human well-being indicators in distinct regions. The research team interviewed 61 experts and held 8 stakeholder workshops across 3 regions to identify and prioritize locally relevant indicators. Results from the three regions were compared to determine the degree of geographic and demographic variability in indicator priorities. The team found broadly similar domains and attributes of human well- being across the regions, yet measurable indicators were specific to the contexts. Despite this, the congruence of overarching domains suggests that a high-level framework of human well-being can guide a holistic assessment of the human impacts of environmental change across diverse regions.

Citation:

Biedenweg, Kelly. (2016). A Comparative Study of Human Well-Being Indicators Across Three Puget Sound Regions. Society & Natural Resources. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2016.1209606.

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‘Inside Radiolab’ will interview PSI Director and other Puget Sound area panelists

1280px-WNYC_Radiolab_logo.svgOur Director Joel Baker is part of a panel of four environmental leaders in Puget Sound who will be interviewed onstage at the Inside Radiolab show next week in Tacoma. Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich will host the January 22nd event at the Pantages Theater where he will interview panelists about Northwest water issues.

In addition to Baker, other panelists include Jennifer Chang of the Puyallup Watershed Initiative, Ryan Mello, Executive Director of Pierce Conservation District and Sheida Sahandy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Radiolab’s quirky take on science has made it one of the Internet’s most popular podcasts, with more than 4 million downloads. It is also broadcast on over 450 public radio stations around the country. The live theater presentation will go behind the scenes of the show, with Krulwich talking about how he and his co-host Jad Abumrad create some of radio’s most compelling science journalism. The show begins at 7:30.

Read more about the event.

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State approves human wellbeing indicators for Puget Sound

The state today adopted a series of human wellbeing indicators for Puget Sound. The project was led by PSI social scientist Kelly Biedenweg and was featured in a story published by UW News and picked up by several news outlets. 


July 29, 2015

Healthier Puget Sound depends on healthy people, report finds

from UW Today 

A thriving Puget Sound depends on healthy habitat that can support the animals and plants that live here. Shellfish free of toxins, salmon dashing up streams and forests full of diversity all are important benchmarks for the full restoration of Puget Sound.

puget sound-1-TILE

Photo: Puget Sound Partnership

But what about the people who live here? Should our well-being and the aspects we care most about in the natural world bear any weight on the plans — and money — being poured into cleaning up the Sound?

They should, according to the state agency tasked with organizing the recovery of Puget Sound. Continue reading

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Wastewater study looks at Seattle marijuana use

One of our collaborators made news this week for his pilot study quantifying marijuana use in Seattle and Tacoma. Dan Burgard, a chemist at the University of Puget Sound, is analyzing wastewater from sewage treatment plants to identify levels of metabolized THC. The study is designed to determine if new recreational marijuana laws are leading to an increase in marijuana use. It will also look at trends over time, and how the legal trade of marijuana compares with the black market. Burgard is using analytical equipment at the Center for Urban Waters for his study.

Read more in an article today’s Seattle Times.

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Ocean Modeling Forum to hold Pacific Herring Summit June 8-10

An albatross catches a herring.Langara Fishing Adventures

An albatross catches a herring.Langara Fishing Adventures

Puget Sound Institute lead ecologist Tessa Francis is co-chair of an upcoming summit to examine the human dimensions of Pacific herring fisheries in the Salish Sea. The forum brings together “social and natural scientists, tribes and First Nations, and federal and state managers” to identify new approaches to ecosystem-based management, including the use of traditional ecologic knowledge and social networks.

The summit will be held from June 8-10 in British Columbia.  Read more at the Ocean Modeling Forum website. 

Related article (UW Today): Ocean Modeling Forum to bring human element to herring fishery, others

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