Cockles and mussels harvested on the shores of the Irish Sea may have provided a staple diet for Molly Malone and her fellow Dubliners, but for scientists at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth they are, along with longer living species such as the clam Arctica islandica*, a detailed record of pollution extending back over two centuries.
The shells of molluscs are made up of layers of calcium carbonate which grow in regular cycles. With each cycle a layer is added causing an effect similar to the rings formed as trees grow. As layers are formed pollutants such as heavy metals become incorporated or trapped into the shell.
Led by Dr Bill Perkins of Centre for Research in Environment and Health at the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, the Aberystwyth team have been working on a technique that enables them to extract samples from the individual layers on a shell in minute quantities. Once analysed the extracted shards of shell reveal their chemical composition including trace metals in very low concentrations – parts per million.
Arthur Dafis | University of Wales
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