Scientist finds bird feathers can be used to track water quality

By on May 10, 2013

An Environment Canada research scientist is pioneering a new way to study water quality by expanding analysis of bird feathers, according to a Vice report.

John Elliot, an Environment Canada research scientist, found that analyzing bird feathers reveals chemicals they contact and consume while out in the world’s water bodies.  He has detected flame retardants, heavy metals and even radioactive isotopes from the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan.

Birds process chemicals slowly, making it possible to detect historical pollutants in museum specimens. Birds’ habits of traveling to the same places each year also make studying water quality in particular locations possible.

Elliot and his team are now adding GPS trackers to birds to pinpoint their travels for more detailed analysis.

Image: The rhinoceros auklet was among the species studied (Credit: DickDaniels, via Wikimedia Commons)

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