Connecting Waterpeople

Researchers advocate using seashells to monitor pollution from desalination plants

  • Researchers advocate using seashells to monitor pollution from desalination plants

About the entity

Ben-Gurion University
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is one of Israel’s leading research universities and among the world leaders in many fields.
Schneider Electric

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers advocate using seashells to monitor currently undetected industrial pollution from factories and desalination plants along the Israeli coastline and worldwide.

"We have accurately quantified trace amounts of heavy metal enrichment from desalination plants on the Mediterranean coast of Israel," says BGU Prof. Sigal Abramovich, of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and head of the Laboratory for Foraminiferal Research. "Our Israel field research and published studies demonstrate the potential of detecting heavy metal traces in foraminiferal shells as a tool for monitoring the coastal facilities industrial footprint. This includes areas that are considered clean marine reserves." 

Prof. Abramovich is collaborating with an international network of oceanographers to encourage countries around the world to adopt regular foraminifera monitoring based on the methods developed in her lab. Using spatial-temporal monitoring, the researchers can now detect heavy metals at very low concentrations in the shells, even before they are considered to be pollution.

Foraminifera are unicellular organisms that produce calcite shells from seawater. Their shells store the chemical and physical properties, including pollution and as a result, provide the basis for most climate research. Foraminifera shells are among the most ancient and abundant fossils.  As a result, they are considered one of the most important archives of ancient and modern oceans. 

Foraminifera grow their shells by sequentially adding chambers, each of which provides a chronological sequence to monitor many factors, including pollution. Their high diversity and presence in all marine habitats make them ideal candidates for monitoring of historical and ongoing pollution and its impacts.