Seattle Aquarium honors work conducted at the Center for Urban Waters


Congratulations to our recent affiliate Dr. Zhenyu Tian for receiving the Seattle Aquarium’s Conservation Research Award! Tian, who is now an assistant professor at Northeastern University, has been recognized by the Aquarium for his work in 2020 to identify a chemical from automobile tires that has been killing Coho salmon in Puget Sound.

Tian and a team of scientists at our parent organization the Center for Urban Waters discovered the deadly compound 6PPD-Quinone which has been leaching into stormwater. Research leading up to the discovery was done in collaboration with many other organizations in the region including the Washington Stormwater Center at Washington State University, NOAA, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tian was lead author of the 2021 paper outlining the finding in the journal Science. 

According to the Aquarium, the award “honors individuals who are leaders and innovators in conservation research, with a particular focus on climate change, plastic pollution, sustainable fisheries and tourism, marine protected areas and socioeconomics,” with special consideration for researchers working on projects in the Salish Sea or Coral Triangle.

Tian, who grew up in Beijing, said his curiosity about the notorious air pollution of that city led him to become an environmental chemist. When Tian came to our group at the Center for Urban Waters in 2017 he joined a team working to understand the mysterious deaths of thousands of spawning coho salmon in Puget Sound. The scientists analyzed a huge spectrum of chemicals found in stormwater before determining that the culprit was a novel compound generated from tire wear particles. “Once you get into the field and see fish dying, you feel a strong motivation to get this done,” Tian told our magazine Salish Sea Currents after the discovery. “This was an opportunity to answer a scientific question that will really make a difference.”

Another University of Washington affiliate, Dr. Lisa Graumlich, also received an honor from the Aquarium this year. Graumlich is dean emeritus for the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and will receive the Aquarium’s Sylvia Earl Medal for “individuals whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect and advance the mission of the Seattle Aquarium: Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.”

The Aquarium plans to honor the two scientists through a series of blog posts on its website.