Student receives national grant

Contact: Kay Fike Jones

A Mississippi State University graduate student will use a national fellowship to learn more about how arsenic may be poisoning a South Alabama estuary.

Scott Phipps of Starkville, a doctoral student in biological sciences, recently received a $16,500 National Estuarine Research Reserve Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sanctuaries and Reserves Division.

The funding will enable him to study protected federal estuaries--the mix of freshwater and saltwater between rivers and oceans--in Weeks Bay (Baldwin County), Ala.

Phipps said the former forest-covered Baldwin County is one of the most agricultural counties in the state and the resulting soil erosion is becoming a problem in the estuary.

"As the soil runoff increases, more is deposited in Weeks Bay and these bottom sediments are rich in arsenic," he said.

In low doses, arsenic usually does not harm the algae, but at higher levels it replaces phosphorous, an important nutrient. Because of the greater-than-normal soil deposits, more and more arsenic is finding its way into the sediment.

"Algae can't tell the difference between arsenic and phosphorus. Absorbing too much of the arsenic will poison the organisms the same as it would poison us," Phipps said.

He will study just how the extra arsenic interacts with the phosphorus, as well as how the algae and related organisms, such as diatoms, are affected. Diatoms are the basic source of marine food and the beginning of the food chain.

Phipps also will attempt to measure the amount of arsenic in the bay and its ratio to other elements.

Wed, 04/23/1997 - 05:00