Monitoring Environmental Contaminants Mobilized by El Niño Storms: The Impact on Intertidal Ecosystems

Poster Presentation

Prepared by C. Ortiz Jr, A. Adeleye, L. Zhao, Y. Huang, A. Keller
University of California Santa Barbara, UCSB - Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, 2400 Bren Hall, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106-5131, United States

Contact Information: [email protected]; 805-893-5352


This study investigated the bioaccumulation of environmental pollutants in mussels (Mytilus californianus) throughout the 2015-2016 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO is associated with a warm band of ocean water in the equatorial Pacific and usually creates large storm events in California. In California, the mean annual suspended sediment flux can be up to five times greater during ENSO events. Our main objective was to determine if pollutants (heavy metals: dissolved, nanosized, and bulk) mobilized by ENSO-induced storms would significantly impact intertidal ecosystems. Mussel, water, and sediment samples will be collected before, during, and after the 2015-2016 rain season (October – March). The four sampling locations included one relatively pristine watershed, two agricultural watersheds, and one watershed containing oil fields. Metal concentration in samples was determined with an Agilent ICP-MS 7900 series using EPA Methods 3052 and 3051A. Baseline metal concentrations in mussels collected in Ventura County were 379.4 ppm, 8.7 ppm, 210 ppm, and 7.2 ppm for iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), and arsenic (As), respectively. The concentrations were found to be within the range of concentrations recorded previously by the California Mussel Watch Program. Future results from this study may help determine if intertidal zones and other aquatic ecosystems are vulnerable to environmental degradation during ENSO events.