ICP-MS Methodologies

Project Title: Development of ICP-MS elemental fingerprinting of fish otoliths, as a probe of the marine environment, to assess the long-term environmental effects of the dumping of wastes at sea.

Student: Noel Casey

Supervisor: Dr. Ted McGowan

Funding Body: Higher Education Authority



A research study is proposed, to examine the use of fish otoliths to assess contamination levels in the marine environment. This has particular applications in the study of long-term dumping of municipal sludges at sea (until 1999, more than 50% of all municipal sludges in Ireland were dumped at sea).

Trace elements incorporated into the growing surface of the fish otolith (ear stone) reflect the physical and chemical characteristics of the ambient water. The otolith elemental composition (‘fingerprint’) determined with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS) has proven to be an effective discriminator of adjacent fish populations incorporating variabilities in off-shore waters, including pollution variabilities.

The goal of this project is to evaluate ICP- MS fingerprinting techniques as pollution probes of the marine environment, through the determination of the otolith microchemistry of plaice larvae. The techniques will be evaluated by the analysis of  larvae otoliths collected from specific spawning grounds around the Irish coast including sludge dumping grounds and a site close to the Sellafield nuclear plant.  The results will show local variations in chemistry, and will also highlight the impact of heavy metal uptake from sludge sediments during spawning.

This is a collaborative research project with Dr. Bret Danilowicz of the Department of Zoology, University College Dublin.