- Int'l Programs
- Int'l Degree & Education Abroad
- Int'l Student Advising & Services
- Int'l Scholar & Faculty Services
OSU's Global Impact
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 05/15/2013 - 11:33am
Fighting a war of independence should be turmoil enough for a small country, but in 1970, the people of Bangladesh also had to deal with a deadly cholera outbreak. This water-borne disease threatened the country’s plentiful surface water and put public health at risk. To solve this crisis, the government, together with international aid agencies, dug thousands of wells. But the clean water they hoped to deliver created a new crisis, what one researcher calls the largest mass poisoning on the planet.
Fast-forward 20 years. Symptoms of arsenic toxicity were beginning to appear in the population. Skin lesions were misdiagnosed as leprosy and led to social exclusion. Worse, skin lesions are a potential precursor to cancer.
Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist at Oregon State University, and her Harvard mentor David Christianie first traveled to Bangladesh in 2003 to study the health effects associated with arsenic in drinking water. “Our efforts have largely been understanding the epidemiology (of arsenic exposure) and the human health risk associated with it,” says Kile. She first traveled to Bangladesh as a doctoral student at Harvard and has returned more than 20 times.
Scientists know that exposure to high levels of arsenic can lead to cancer, but Kile, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, wants to know how the metal affects other aspects of health, such as reproduction and child development. Local groups, she says, can effectively translate her results into disease prevention, but many participants in her research are among the most vulnerable in the country.
“By and large, the populations that are affected by arsenic in Bangladesh are the rural populations,” she says, “and about 60% of Bangladesh lives on less than $2 a day. So these are places of absolute poverty.”
Reproductive health effects stem from the fact that the toxic metal crosses the placenta and exposes the fetus. Low birth weight and spontaneous abortions have been associated with arsenic exposure in utero. Kile also uses genetics to look for variations among individuals that increase or decrease susceptibility to skin lesions.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of arsenic is its invisibility. “You can’t taste arsenic. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, you have no idea its there unless you test for it,” she adds.
Not being able to detect arsenic by sight or taste has raised the stakes for communities that lack the resources to test or treat their drinking water. Kile’s favorite way to test for arsenic in people may come as a surprise: the human toenail.
Toenails are composed of keratin, which contains chemical combinations of sulfur and hydrogen called sulfhydryl groups. As arsenic in the body binds with these sulfhydryl groups, it accumulates in the toenail.
“So keratin is mostly sulfhydral, as is your hair,” says Kile. “Any inorganic arsenic that is circulating in your body will want to bind to a sulfhydral group. So your toenails, your hair, and even your skin all come into equilibrium with the arsenic in your body. You can take a toenail clipping, and you get a lovely integrated exposure of what that person has been exposed to.”
Kile calls the health crisis in Bangladesh a preventable disaster. Arsenic was known to be present in large parts of western Asia, but that wasn’t considered in the 1970s when the country transitioned to groundwater.
“And it was seen as the public health triumph of its day, only to find out that it’s now the largest mass poisoning on the planet,” says Kile. “That’s one of the messages of this: This was completely preventable.”
Research elsewhere suggests that as exposure declines, skin lesions may go away with time, but such studies are still in progress.
Despite Kile’s start with arsenic being half-a-world away, the issue isn’t so far from home. She calls Oregon “arsenic country” and has been conducting water-testing workshops in communities east of the Cascades. In the United States, technology can remove arsenic from drinking water. So far, there have been no arsenic-related health problems recorded in Oregon.
“It really is across Oregon,” she adds. “Eugene, Salem…and across the border too. This is a Pacific Northwest Issue.”
Scientists estimate that up to 100 million people are exposed to elevated levels of arsenic in Bangladesh alone. Whether you are drawing from a well in Bangladesh or Oregon, researchers like Kile are racing to fully understand the impacts of this invisible contaminant.
Listen to a podcast with Kile.
For more information about arsenic in drinking water in Bangladesh:
D. van Halem, S. A. Bakker, G. L. Amy, and J. C. van Dijk, “Arsenic in drinking water: a worldwide water quality concern for water supply companies,” in the Journal Drinking Water Engineering and Science, 2009,
Manouchehr Amini; Karim C. Abbaspour; Michael Berg; Lenny Winkel; Stephan J. Hug; Eduard Hoehn; Hong Yang; C. Annette Johnson; “Statistical Modeling of Global Geogenic Arsenic Contamination in Groundwater,” Environ. Sci. Technol. 2008, 42, 3669-3675.t © 2008 American Chemical Society
Chowdhury, M. A. I., Uddin, M. T., Ahmed, M. F., Ali, M. A. and Uddin, S. M.: How does arsenic contamination of groundwater cause severity and health hazard in Bangladesh, J. Appl. Sci., 6(6), 1275-1286, 2006
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 05/09/2013 - 10:50am
When Michael P. Nelson talks about his work, he mentions carcasses and cadavers to a startling degree — startling because Nelson is not a physician or a veterinarian or even a biologist. He’s a philosopher. So at first glance, necropsy seems an odd topic of discourse. But it starts to make sense when you notice that Nelson’s office is in Oregon State’s College of Forestry, not the College of Liberal Arts where universities typically house their philosophers. And, as the only philosopher ever hired to lead one of the National Science Foundation’s 27 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites — in this case, OSU’s H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest — Nelson again defies tradition.
“We started the search assuming we’d end up with some sort of ecologist, hydrologist or biophysical scientist,” recounts John Bliss, the associate dean of forestry who led the hiring process. “I knew we’d turned a corner when the ecologists on the committee stopped me in the hall to say things like, ‘Maybe a philosopher is what we need!’”
With -ologists already well represented, they opted instead for Nelson’s novel viewpoint. “Michael brings a philosopher’s logic to complex problems, unencumbered by disciplinary straitjackets,” Bliss says.
Mind Over Matter
To understand these discrepancies, you have to go back to Nelson’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, where, in a high school anatomy class, he saw a dead body laid out on a steel slab. “I thought that cadaver was the coolest thing in the world,” he recalls. But once he got to college, the study of biology struck him as tedious. Too many equations to solve, too many chemical reactions to memorize. In contrast, he found himself relishing his philosophy classes. Ideas like the moral imperative and the inherent nature of being quickened his imagination. He soon switched majors and began to ponder the world on a cerebral rather than cellular level.
His fascination with biological systems, however, never went away. Eventually, this man whose mental petri dish was awash in syllogisms instead of cell divisions circled back to where he started — to that raw, physical nexus of life and death that is a carcass. It happened about a decade after he earned his Ph.D. at England’s Lancaster University, the cradle of environmental philosophy. By then, Nelson was teaching at Michigan State University, where he met John A. Vucetich, co-director of a long-term, multidisciplinary study of predator-prey dynamics. Vucetich invited Nelson to visit the study site: a wild, isolated, mist-wrapped island in Lake Superior. Nelson was enchanted. Soon he became the “resident philosopher” for Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale.
Which is how, in 2005, he came to be kneeling beside a pile of bones and sinews where wolves had devoured a moose. Every summer, Nelson participates in collecting biological samples, including scat and skulls, for DNA analysis and pathology studies. Now in its 55th year, the project has tracked the dynamics between wolves and moose over a timespan unprecedented in the annals of predator-prey studies. Surprising insights into island biogeography and wildlife management are emerging from the mists.
“What I really like about my work, is that it exists at the edges of disciplines.”
— Michael P. Nelson
Sting Like a Bee
In front of a crowd, Nelson moves nimbly, like a boxer, on the balls of his feet. An aura of great energy emanates from his face and hands. It’s clear that he’s in a hurry to push his thoughts outward. Planet Earth is, after all, poised on the cliff of calamity, he says during a joint presentation on ethics and climate change with OSU conservation philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore. He and Moore challenge the scientists in the audience to couple their facts (climate models, data sets, statistical analyses) to their values (as parents, as community members, as global citizens). It’s time to kick the advocacy taboo to the curb, the two philosophers exhort, arguing that meaningful action arises only when facts (“what is”) are welded to values (“what ought to be”).
To drive home the urgency of curbing fossil fuel use, Nelson cites sources as diverse as “Genesis” and Dr. Seuss. At last year’s meeting of LTER scientists nationwide he did a riff inspired by The Lorax. This scholar of striking contrasts can recite playful couplets one moment and the next, dare scientists to rethink the most basic assumptions of their careers.
“Look, we don’t know how to create careers in science that fully empower scientists,” Nelson tells a roomful of researchers. “What we do know is this: Everything has changed. You have taught us that. You should ask yourself some questions: Are the old forms of scientific practice working? Or do you need to create another path? What does it mean to be a scientist now? You are studying systems, ecosystems; you know about the necessity of connections. Live what you know. That’s integrity.”
See details about Michael Nelson’s teaching, books, ongoing projects and affiliations.
Predator and Prey, a Delicate Dance, The New York Times, May 8, 2013
Wolves Teach Scientists Their Limitations, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 1, 2013
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 05/03/2013 - 1:39pm
Perry Morrow, student in the Oregon State University Water Resources Graduate Program, produced this video on biochar, the carbonized remains of plants. Turning low-value wood and other biomass into biochar sequesters carbon from the atmosphere for hundreds of years. The resulting material may also benefit water quality by absorbing pollutants such as copper, lead, zinc and other metals.
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 05/03/2013 - 11:23am
For many first-year college students, going to a new school represents “leaving the nest.” They are now responsible for housing, bills and their own education. But according to Heidi Igarashi , a research assistant at Oregon State University, most are still in their parents’ nest and will be for several more years.
“Parents used to expect that their kids should be financially independent by 22,” she says, “but now the majority of them say 25. There is a longer run up to adulthood.”
Igarashi, a doctoral student who works with Carolyn Aldwin, professor of human development and family sciences, recently published a study looking at parents who support both adult children (ages 18 to 30) and their own elderly parents. She found that while parental support may benefit maturing adults, things get more difficult when they care for the older generation.
“The idea of the empty nest is based on this probably antiquated idea of the life cycle where you get married, have children, your children grow up, ‘leave the nest,’ and the parents are there to ride out those last periods of time. ‘Empty nest,’” she adds, “applies to some people but not many.”
It is simply taking longer for young adults to take flight. That trend shows up in a variety of ways, from education to insurance. For example, Igarashi points to an increased interest and a need for further education in graduate school. Health insurance has also changed. Prior to 2010, states had varying rules on dependency for health insurance purposes. Now federal law says a child can remain on a parent’s insurance until age 26. Igarashi attributes these cultural changes to the nest being full longer.
Igarashi found that most parents were happy to support their children for longer periods of time. Parents, she suggests, are simply continuing what they had been doing. However, she also looked at them as caregivers for their own parents. This type of caring is increasingly common. The average couple has more parents than children. But that doesn’t mean it is always received with ease. Igarashi calls this type of support “caring up.” On the generational ladder, the older you get, the higher on the ladder you are.
Caring Up Is Hard to Do
“Caring up is hard on everyone. The midlife folks were very happy to provide care up, but it came with this burden, feelings of angst, anxiety, uncertainty. Not only for themselves, but for their parents too.” Some elderly parents had Alzheimer’s, and some were bed ridden. In these circumstances, feelings of anxiety are natural, she adds.
Igarashi did her study during the economic recession of 2008-2009. Shortly after she published her results, the PEW Research Center released a similar but separate study that added more detail. PEW found that in 2012, 47% of midlife adults (ages 40-59) were supporting a child, while they were also taking care of a parent older than 65-years-old. Pew Researchers referred to these individuals as part of a “sandwich generation,” meaning they provide both care up and care down the generational ladder.
Despite any feelings of potential burdens, Igarashi’s study found that during these changing economic times, being a “sandwich generation” may not be a bad thing. Young adults get the support they need to take flight from the nest when they are truly ready, whether for educational, financial or other reasons.
“In our society we tend to really value autonomy and independence, and hold it almost paramount to almost anything else,” says Igarashi. “What our study indicates is that it’s really interdependence that may become really important, especially in this changing socioeconomic world where you really need other people around you to really work together.”
Most college students fit into the category of nestlings learning to fly. While the job market will continue to create challenges, Igarashi provides encouragement that parents are willing to assist their children during these changing times even while assisting parents of their own.
Co-authors on Igarashi’s study include Oregon State professor Karen Hooker, Deborah P. Coehlo (OSU-Cascades) and Margaret M. Manoogian (Western Oregon University).
See Igarashi’s report, “My Nest Is Full”: Intergenerational relationships at midlife, in the Oregon State University Scholar’s Archive.
See the PEW Research Center study on mid-life adults: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 04/11/2013 - 2:22pm
Three Oregon State University students have been awarded the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, an annual award given for the nation’s top undergraduate student research scholars in science, math and engineering by the federally endowed Goldwater Foundation. A fourth student has received an honorable mention, making this OSU’s most successful year ever in the annual competition.
“Each campus is allowed to nominate four students for the award and for the first time, all four students nominated by OSU were recognized by the national Goldwater selection committee,” said Kevin Ahern, director of undergraduate research at Oregon State.
The one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per year.
The four awardees are all students in the University Honors College and the College of Science. They are:
Helen Hobbs, a junior from Butte, Montana, is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. She is a two-time participant in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program and is currently researching the molecular basis of aging with professor Tory Hagen. She aspires to a research career.
Thomas Pitts, a junior from Ontario, Oregon, is majoring in math and conducts research in mathematics education and theoretical mathematics, with an emphasis on algebra and number theory. He has worked in OSU’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program in Mathematics and studies under professor Tevian Dray. His goal is research and teaching at the university level.
Justin Zhang, a junior from Beaverton, is majoring in biochemistry/biophysics. He has worked with associate professor Jeffrey Greenwood since his freshman year studying glioblastoma, a type of malignant brain cancer. Zhang has done internships at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Sloan-Kettering. He is looking forward to a research career in human health.
James Rekow, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry/biophysics from Portland, works with associate professor Andrew Buermeyer on mechanisms of DNA repair and mutation relating to colon cancer. He has been involved in undergraduate research since his freshman year, including an internship at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. After attaining his Ph.D. in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Rekow plans to conduct research in genetic toxicology and teach at the university level.
“The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering,” said Board of Trustees Chair Peggy Goldwater Clay in announcing the awards. “The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.”
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 04/03/2013 - 12:58pm
The Yellowstone caldera is no typical volcano. Its elongated form measures about 35 miles by 45 miles, considerably larger than most. Yellowstone Lake stands at the center of the caldera and shows evidence of volcanic activity that has formed some of its arms. Yellowstone contains one of the world’s largest geothermal systems.
The caldera has generated large amounts of ash over geologic history. One 12-million-year-old deposit of Yellowstone ash at Ashfall State Park in Nebraska entombed rhinoceros, horses, camels and birds that had gathered around a watering hole and today provide paleontologists with a deep view of ancient ecology.
For links to recent scientific reports about the caldera, see this page on Volcano World at Oregon State.
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 04/03/2013 - 12:46pm
A professor of geology and geophysics, Adam Schultz received his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in 1986. He came to Oregon State University in 2003 and directs the National Geoelectromagnetic Facility, which loans geophysics equipment to scientists, industry and government. His research interests include geothermal systems, the Cascade volcanic arc, the Cascadia subduction zone and innovative geophysical imaging techniques.
His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and a variety of other federal, industry and foreign funding sources.
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 04/03/2013 - 12:26pm
A geological mystery lies beneath the majestic beauty of Yellowstone National Park. Once thought solved, the enigma continues to unfold through the lens of a young science known as magnetotellurics.
As accepted theory goes, over the past 16 million years a rising plume of magma in the Earth’s mantle produced massive amounts of lava and ash in a path stretching from the Snake River Plain to its current caldera — a volcanic crater in Wyoming, the Yellowstone “supervolcano.” It is widely believed that the Yellowstone caldera currently sits on top of that hotspot, a vertical “blowtorch” in the mantle beneath the Earth’s crust. The North American tectonic plate slowly creeps over the plume of magma, no faster than the rate at which fingernails grow. The plume sometimes oozes and other times violently erupts lava across an area the size of Rhode Island. Adam Schultz, a geophysics professor in Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, describes this mantle hotspot idea as “almost a cartoon view that Earth scientists have of why you get features like Yellowstone.”
Magnetotellurics (MT), the study of the Earth’s electric and magnetic fields, may turn this cartoon view on its head. The use of magnetotelluric surveys has exploded in the last decade thanks to progress in computing technology and geophysical instrumentation. Schultz’s colleagues at Oregon State — Anna Kelbert and Gary Egbert — have used magnetotellurics to reveal that large volumes of partially molten rock and potentially superheated water (hydrothermal systems) snake west underneath the crust and into the uppermost mantle west of Yellowstone. This molten trail continues westward along much of the Snake River Plain in Idaho and into Oregon. These findings complicate the expectation that a nearly vertical magma plume lies directly under the present day Yellowstone supervolcano, which was what is anticipated from a hotspot. Magnetotellurics has opened doors to stunning breakthroughs and fascinating discoveries, providing new perspectives that were once invisible to science.
From Magnetics to Melted Rock
With magnetotellurics, scientists measure variations in the direction and intensity of the planet’s natural magnetic and electric fields over time. They use these measurements to understand the properties of the rock, one of the most important being electrical conductivity. Generally, greater electrical conductivity can suggest the presence of extensively interconnected bodies of fluid within the rock. West of Yellowstone, magnetotellurics reveal a relatively shallow, hot, highly conductive region under the Snake River Plain.
Schultz compares magnetotelluric surveys to MRIs commonly used in medical diagnostics. In fact the underlying principles are similar. “If you go to a radiology department and they do a CT scan of your head, for example, they see some weird thing, and they’re not quite sure what it is. You have an MRI and go, ‘ah! that’s a brain tumor,’” says Schultz.
In the same way, MT can be thought of as a very large MRI. And just as doctors put together multiple types of scans to see inside our bodies, geophysicists combine seismology, magnetotellurics and measurements of the on-going deformation of the Earth’s surface through GPS and satellite radar data to see what’s underground. Schultz’s focus on the Yellowstone caldera is part of a larger project, the magnetotelluric component (also known as EMScope) of the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope Program.
Schultz, a former program director for the NSF, heads EMScope. In the quest to understand more about the history of the North American continent, EarthScope makes seismic, GPS and MT surveys of the United States and part of Canada. EMScope provides the geomagnetic facet of the survey, producing 3-D images of Earth’s electrical conductivity variations beneath the continent.
Sweeping west to east, scientists are deploying portable arrays of magnetometers and electric field sensors in plastic boxes buried a foot or two in the ground. These small devices silently collect data over a period of one to three weeks, depending on the level of solar storm activity, which provides the source of their signal. Remarkably, the stream of charged particles emitted from the Sun’s atmosphere, the “Solar Wind,” is what makes this all happen. Some of those particles are captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and form gigantic electric currents that flow above the atmosphere, the most famous of which are the aurora (the Northern and Southern Lights). These currents cause other electric currents to flow inside the Earth’s crust and mantle, generating a signal that is detectable by MT devices.
Ancient Rift Revealed
Schultz first encountered geophysics at Brown University in 1979 when MT systems and computers were the size of travel trailers. Instruments today are small, rugged and more mobile. Teams of scientists are currently creating 3D images of the electrical conductivity beneath the comparatively flat landscape of the Midwest. Early results already reveal a billion-year-old ancient rift down the center of the continent, a feature hidden by vast seas of crops and flattened by millions of years of erosion. Magnetotellurics provides a view that goes below the region’s apparent horizon-to-horizon uniformity.
In Oregon, Schultz also leads a magnetotelluric study contributing to the potential geothermal development of Newberry Volcano just south of Bend. Nearly 20 times larger than Mount St. Helens, Newberry is Oregon’s largest volcano. Its flanks slope so gently that it’s hardly visible from any roadside viewpoint. In fact, the city of Bend sits close to the northern flank. The volcano isn’t dead, however. Massive amounts of heat lie just beneath the surface, a potentially large source of alternative energy waiting to be utilized.Researcher Profile
Adam Schultz directs Oregon State’s National Geoelectromagnetic Facility.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) has contracted with Oregon State to monitor and assist in the development of a geothermal system on the caldera’s western rim. AltaRock, a geothermal energy company, aims to demonstrate that sufficient heat can be harnessed from deep beneath the surface. It might be possible to generate electricity at commercially competitive levels. To do so, technicians begin by injecting cold fluids at high pressure into the cracks and crevices in the blistering but otherwise dry basalt underground. Ultimately, those heated fluids could then be extracted to create steam and drive electric turbines to generate power.
Unfortunately, water changes the rock to clay, creating a slimy obstacle that would block the cracks and shut off the water flow back to the surface. However, the fluids also change conductivity, and this property allows geophysicists like Schultz to make 3-D surveys that help identify clogs in the plumbing and keep the water flowing and creating steam.
There’s even a future for magnetotellurics in ocean-wave energy. Turbine buoys used in wave-energy projects generate electromagnetic fields. Since some marine species may be sensitive to electric and magnetic fields, the turbines could potentially disrupt marine ecosystems. To ensure the safety of these fragile areas, Schultz and his team are developing new sensors to gather electromagnetic, seismic and other data. The latest sensor, affectionately called Beaver 1 by the National Geoelectromagnetic Facility, Schultz’s lab, is destined for the ocean floor beneath wave turbines off the Oregon coast.
Continental CollisionOne of the World’s Largest Calderas
The Yellowstone caldera is no typical volcano.
Back at Yellowstone, data from MT surveys offer evidence of a more complex explanation for the heat beneath the world’s first national park. While the EMScope sensors have moved on to other areas, early results show the melted remains beneath and to the west of the giant volcano. They whisper of a subducted past. Over 200 million years ago, the Farallon plate, the ancient piece of crust between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, began to dive beneath young North America. Geologists have known for some time that rather than angling steeply toward the mantle, the Farallon hugged the base of the continent all the way to the current Rocky Mountains. About 16 million years ago, interactions between the diving plate and a mantle plume began forming the volcanic features of the Snake River Plain and Yellowstone before eventually descending to be recycled. All that’s left of the Farallon, mere slivers of its past size, grinds today beneath the coast of North and Central America. Off the Pacific Northwest coast, those remains are called the Juan de Fuca plate.
Geoscientists are still debating what the MT data mean for the evolution of the continent and for specific areas such as Yellowstone. Kelbert, Egbert and Schultz plan to refine their understanding with more magnetotelluric studies of the crust in higher resolution. EMScope is only a first step in 3-D geomagnetic surveys, and the discovery beneath Yellowstone is only a chapter of a complex history. This young science will undoubtedly illuminate more untold stories that lie beneath our feet. Geophysicists will have their hands full for years to come.
Amanda Enbysk is a senior in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.
The article contains an account of work sponsored by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, both agencies of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference therein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed therein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.
OSU's Global Impact - Wed, 02/27/2013 - 12:34pm
“A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections — a mere heart of stone.” Charles Darwin
It was late Friday afternoon at Dearborn Hall. Professors Michael Nelson and Kathleen Dean Moore stood before an audience packed with scientists. Mixed in were students, community members and a few stray poets, attentive and expectant for a presentation titled “Five Tools of Moral Reasoning for Climate Scientists” and sponsored by Oregon State’s Environmental Humanities Initiative.
Nelson began by quoting Darwin on the necessity of emotional detachment in the lab and the field. Science requires cold objectivity to preserve the purity of data, the clarity of analysis and the accuracy of conclusions.
In truth, though, scientists are rarely unmoved by the work they do. In fact, by dint of their profession, they understand Earth’s precariousness even more deeply than most of us. When a researcher sterilizes her glassware and hangs up her safety goggles for the day, she carries with her the burden of her findings. Nelson regards that burden with compassion. “It’s hard to be a scientist in the age of climate change,” he told the crowd. “The data are so heartbreaking.”
As a thinking community, we face a conundrum: Scientists uncover some of the empirical knowledge we need to save our planet and ourselves. Yet their devotion to neutrality — an unquestioned necessity in the lab — impedes their voices in the wider world. “Scientists feel disempowered to weight in,” noted Nelson, lead principal investigator of the H.J. Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research Program at Oregon State. “They feel that ‘advocacy’ immediately ruins their credibility. So ironically, the people who know the most get to say the least.”
Adds Moore: “When we silence ourselves, we grant a great gift to those who do harm.”
So how to act upon one’s wrenching discoveries when shackled solely to facts? How to tell the story of a planet tipping toward calamity with graphs and charts when it’s birds and babies and baobab trees that move and inspire us? In a world of collapsing ecosystems, stone hearts would be excellent buffers to anguish. But even the most disciplined investigator struggles with the truths he uncovers.
What Nelson and Moore, OSU’s nationally renowned conservation philosopher, came to Dearborn Hall to say is that beating hearts and electron microscopes are not incompatible. The “perceived dualism” of science and humanities can be — must be — overcome, argued the two philosophers, co-editors of the recent book Moral Ground, a collection of writings on climate and values.
Science, values and policy are a kind of holy trinity for acting on climate change, Moore asserted. By joining forces with philosophers, clergy and skilled communicators to tell the stories of their studies, scientists can connect the cold, hard data to the warm, human values that drive social change. Because we know that merely bludgeoning people with facts only gives them a sore head.
“In the American tradition, ethics are a great force for change — building pressure through a growing affirmation of great moral principles of human decency,” she said.
Added Nelson: “We need to couple the facts with the morality.”
OSU's Global Impact - Tue, 02/26/2013 - 2:15pm
The summer is warm and sunny in Corvallis, but my travels draw me east. Over and past the Cascades is an open land where the cold sparkling waters of a river flow north, and the sweet smell of Ponderosa pine blends with the fresh scent of lodgepole — the Deschutes National Forest. My one-person tent is packed in the back of a white state-owned pick-up truck with the essentials: a sleeping bag, a GPS unit, a camera, some protein bars, lots of buffalo jerky, a “Rite in the Rain” notebook and a pencil, a brown backpack, a bright orange hard hat and a soil corer.
In the late afternoon, I arrive at the Pringle Falls Experimental Forest and set up camp. The Forest Service cabins are nestled next to the gurgling and gushing Deschutes, whose French name means “River of the Falls.” The sounds of the rapids downstream bring a sense of calmness to my spirit. At the campsite, the ground is laden with pinecones, and the pine drops (Pterospera andromedea) expose themselves above the dead needles, branches and other forest litter. I unpack my gear and prepare for an early start out to the field sites the next day.
As you might guess, this isn’t the typical camping trip. I am embarking on an expedition. As a graduate student in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, I am exploring something that lurks in the soils of Central Oregon — a fuzzy microscopic fungus that colonizes tree roots and might predict the future of the forest.
But why is the future of the forest at stake, and why dig underground when we are concerned about trees? The answer lies in the effects that organisms have on one another in a forest ecosystem. Like intricate underground machinery, fungi connect life-giving nutrients in the soil to roots that transport water and food to tree trunk, branch and leaf. Trees connect to climate and wildlife in an environment that evolves over time.
In the near future, scientists expect that climate will change and our forests will adapt. Tree zones will shift and a valuable tree species in the Deschutes National Forest — lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) — is predicted to decline. This change will affect people as well. Native Americans used the long, straight and lightweight poles to build teepees. Today we commercially harvest lodgepole for telephone poles and fences. Big-game animals, such as deer and elk, use lodgepole as habitat.
Researchers at Oregon State University suggest that, as the climate warms, lodgepole pine will decline in the Pacific Northwest by the end of the 21st century. As a result, Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) may be able to migrate into lodgepole zones. But this migration is dependent on the distribution or co-migration of mycorrhizae (fungi that live on tree roots), which are largely unexplored in Central and Eastern Oregon. The question is: Will this migration will be successful?
To answer that question, it helps to know a little about an ancient relationship. Scientists think that mycorrhizae, the fungus colonizing tree roots, evolved with land plants. Fungi and plants have been together since the Devonian period, which began more than 400 million years ago. External root fungi, otherwise known as ectomycorrhizae, form a sheath on the exterior of tree roots. These artful fungi form symbiotic, or beneficial, relationships with their host. Once colonization is complete, they send out filaments, which mine the soil for water and essential nutrients such as nitrogen.
Ultimately, it comes down to a trade that the tree host must submit to: The tree provides carbon, in the form of sugars, to the fungus in exchange for nutrients. The relationship is essential for the host and fungus to have the highest degree of success in the ecosystem — in this case, an ecosystem that I have the privilege to explore.
Getting to the core
The morning sun is bright in Central Oregon, but the air is cold and crisp. On my drive to the field sites, I can see the white peaks of Three Sisters in the distance. I pull the truck into the first site, take out my maps and venture out into the forest. My leather boots softly crunch on the dried pine needles covering the soil. I pound my soil corer into the ground making sure to take a sample of the top 15 centimeters (about six inches) of soil. I take in the smell of fresh earth, as I unscrew the metal corer to reveal a rich brown cylindrical soil core made up of pumice, fine roots and the mycorrhizae, too small to be seen with the naked eye. I dump the dirt, fine roots and all, into a Ziploc bag and place it in my backpack for analysis.
In the lab in Corvallis, I use molecular technology, such as DNA tests, to identify the root fungi of Ponderosa and lodgepole pine. I extract DNA, compare it to mushroom DNA in a database and identify the suspects. Like a detective, I name the species and unearth the world that had lain unexamined beneath the soil. And suddenly, this underground community is less of a mystery.
My analysis reveals a diversity of species: Cenococcum, a black crusty fungus that doesn’t form mushrooms; Rhizopogon, which often forms subterranean truffles; and typical mushroom producers Cortinarius, Russula and Inocybe. It also reveals that the fungal community connected to Ponderosa pine and lodgepole overlap. That means that, when it comes to soil biology at least, Ponderosa will have a high chance of survival if it migrates into a lodgepole zone.
As the climate warms and the tree zones shift, the forest where we recreate and connect with nature may not be as we remember it. The warming climate might diminish one valuable member of the community, but forests know how to persist. By looking at underground fungi, we can determine whether trees have the potential to migrate into new zones and succeed. In the future, the smell of lodgepole pine might be absent from the breeze and the long skinny poles will be no more. Instead, the presence of underground fungi suggests that we might become immersed in the rich mahogany bark and sweet scent of Ponderosa.
Editor’s note: Maria Garcia is a master’s student working with Jane E. Smith, research botanist in the USDA Forest Service. Garcia’s research is supported by the Forest Service and by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 02/14/2013 - 11:10am
For many people, yoga is a form of relaxation. But in India, the birthplace of the exercise, yoga is beginning to stretch beyond the boundaries of one’s self and into the ecological realm. A new movement called “Green Yoga” encourages men and women who practice yoga — called yogis and yoginis — to strive for bettering their environment.
Green Yoga was pioneered by an influential Indian figure, Swami Ramdev. Stuart Sarbacker, assistant professor of philosophy at Oregon State University, has studied Ramdev, who hosts a daily show in India combining yoga and activism. He has attracted some 250 million viewers of all ages.
“Part of what drew me to study Swami Ramdev is this notion that inner transformation should be reflected outwards in some sort of transformation of the external world,” says Sarbacker. This idea is paramount in Green Yoga as well.
“What happens on the mat, so to speak, should translate into a transformed relationship with the world. That transformation may be reflected through personal choices, such as choosing organic foods, or it might mean buying a yoga mat made from natural rubber instead of plastic,” Sarbacker adds.
But Green Yoga doesn’t stop at consumer goods. Ramdev has used the practice to establish landmark status and protection for the heavily polluted Ganges River. Previously it was believed that the Ganges could not become dirty despite the dumping of untreated sewage and chemicals. But through non-violent protests and Green Yoga, Ramdev has created awareness for the river in both the people and the political leaders.
“One of the things that interests me very much is the idea that the Ganges historically was viewed as inherently pure. For most Hindus, it is in fact a Goddess, Gunga,” says Sarbacker. “Instead of thinking you can put whatever you want in the Ganges and she will always be pure, the discourse has shifted more towards what are we doing towards our sacred river, to our goddess by pouring our waste into it?”
Sarbacker has written extensively on the theory, history and practice of yoga and is looking into the relationship between spirituality and environmental philosophy. He has focused specifically on Ramdev. “I’m using ethnographical and anthropological methods to create a snapshot of the development of a particular institution and really the life of a particular teacher, at a certain moment in time.”
Sarbacker wonders if Ramdev will next champion the topic of climate change in India. With the Ganges River being fed by receding glaciers, the water system is at risk, yet little attention has been brought to this issue. Whether Ramdev’s prominence will be sufficient to tackle it is yet to be determined, however with a stardom that has been compared to Oprah’s, he is in a position to do so.
Sarbacker is a certified yoga teacher in addition to being a professor. In spring 2013, he will teach a course at Oregon State about Green Yoga with an ecological consciousness.
Listen to a podcast with Stuart Sarbacker here.
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 02/08/2013 - 11:32am
When Lee Buckingham’s dad brought home a broken HP computer, Lee took it apart and fixed it. He was 15 years old.
Through high school and college, the Oregon State graduate student in Forest Engineering, Resources and Management fed his appetite for technology (“I like to build them from parts”) and taught himself to write programs.
Now, Buckingham will receive a prestigious award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for using his computer skills to assist the U.S. greenhouse industry. He will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to receive the USDA’s Excellence in Technology Transfer Award for 2012.
Buckingham created Virtual Grower, a program available online that enables greenhouse managers to estimate the costs of raising a crop by a specific date. “It’s kind of a SimCity for greenhouses,” said Buckingham, a native of Milan, Mich. “Most of the cost of raising a greenhouse crop is for heat. By specifying materials, dimensions, fuels, location and type of plant, growers can get an estimate of what it will cost them to produce a crop.”
From 2004 to 2005, he worked for the USDA in Toledo, Ohio. He received a master’s in plant ecology from UC-Riverside in 2009.
At Oregon State, Buckingham works with Professor Claire Montgomery to model forest vegetation in response to fire.
OSU's Global Impact - Sat, 02/02/2013 - 4:59pm
Her childhood comes back to her in fragments, like a half-forgotten dream. Treasured moments of comfort and love live in her memory alongside terrifying flashes of violence and hate. She was 8 when the civil war began stirring in the streets of El Salvador. As the conflict grew, it became an ever-present menace to the simple moments of ordinary life — moments like watching her mother press her uniform (a light-blue jumper and white blouse) so it would pass the nuns’ inspection at school. Playing with her rag doll, Esther, named for the grandmother who had sewn it with her own hands. Listening to her grandfather’s stories of a time when men wore suits and ties and tipped their hats to the ladies.
It was tragic enough that Susana’s girlhood was visited by war. It was frightening enough to flee her hometown of San Salvador on a dark night bundled in the backseat of the family Fiat with her little brother Fabio. And yet, as improbable as it seems, the hardest part was still ahead.
San Francisco, where the family took refuge with an aunt, seemed cold and impersonal. The glass-and-steel towers, frenzied highways and constant din made her homesick for San Salvador’s graceful 17th-century architecture, open-air patios and vendors selling tortillas and balloons along tree-lined avenues. The food affronted her palate: How could she stand to eat frozen potpies or peanut butter from a jar when she had so often dined on chile rellenos and plucked sun-ripened marañones right off the tree? Most jarring was the language she could neither speak nor understand. She mourned for her native Spanish.Susana Rivera-Mills
Family stories told in Spanish over steaming bowls of chili-red menudo are the community’s cultural DNA encoded in a shared language.
She didn’t know it then — after all, she was only 12 — but her painful struggle to find footing in a strange land would become the cornerstone of her career. Today, Susana Rivera-Mills’ mission can be distilled into one driving idea: to create a place of belonging for Latinos in America. “Because of my own experience, I’m driven by a need to create a safe space where people can see themselves, where people can hear somebody saying, ‘You’re not alone,’” she says.
As associate dean of Oregon State’s College of Liberal Arts and founding director of the university’s new Center for Latino/Latina Studies and Engagement, CL@SE (pronounced claw-SAY), the immigrant who once struggled for identity uses the tools of social science to study the challenges faced by other Spanish-speaking immigrants and their descendants. From her platform as a professor of Spanish linguistics, she enlightens and inspires new generations of Latinos and Latinas. And, with her passion for advocacy, she has helped engage and empower communities from the American Southwest to the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s research, it’s teaching, it’s advocating, it’s learning,” she says. “I can’t separate them.”
Battles Within and Without
How do you understand war when you’re 8 years old? How do you make sense of angry demonstrations in the public square? Of slogans and placards demanding political reform? Of escalating threats and intimidation, gunfire in the streets, rumors of torture, neighbors disappearing without a trace?
When the pop-pop-pop of gunfire resounded too close to Susana’s school, the nuns would lead the girls into the chapel to wait out the violence. She felt safe in the sanctuary, where candlelight flickered warmly against wooden panels painted with images of Christ. The girls prayed and did their homework, sometimes waiting for hours before it was safe to go home.
But as the years unfolded, even home wasn’t safe. Armed men were extorting money from business owners like her father, who had a trucking company. It was just a matter of time, the family knew, before that threat would come knocking at their door just as it had for her uncle. A high-ranking official in San Salvador, he was assassinated on his doorstep as his wife and children stood helplessly by. Then there was the night Susana woke to the sound of windows shattering and bullets rattling on the roof. She remembers her mother’s screams. Susana cried “Mama!” as her mother pulled her from her warm covers and pushed her under the bed before sliding in close beside her. “Shhh, shhh, you must be very quiet,” her mother shushed her wailing child as bullets ripped through the house.
Amidst the violence, her father’s business foundered. Finally, he confronted the only option he had: He must get his family out of El Salvador. Susana, by then 12 years old, packed what she could fit into her small suitcase. The doll Esther and a teddy bear named Eddie could come, her mother said. The other toys must stay behind. Susana’s grandfather cried as she hugged him goodbye. Three decades have passed, yet her throat still tightens as she recalls the stoic, dignified man she called PapaGerardo weeping while his daughter, son-in-law and two youngest grandchildren loaded up the Fiat and motored into the night. The long-ago leave-taking rushes back to her in all its pathos. She pauses in her story, turning to look out her window in Gilkey Hall until she regains her composure. “I never saw PapaGerardo again.”
Betwixt and Between
The family thought their exile to the United States would be temporary, that any day the war would end and they could steer the Fiat toward home. Instead, things got worse in El Salvador. After a year, Susana’s parents let go of their dream to go back. They liquidated their remaining assets and moved north to Eureka, 100 miles south of the Oregon border. They took minimum-wage jobs at a plant nursery. Susana went to school. Summers, she worked in the nursery alongside her mom and dad.
Within six months, she was speaking English (“It just happened, sort of like magic,” she recalls) and was placed in the talented-and-gifted program. But the stress of the new life that had been thrust upon her — of being the only Latina in her class, of being responsible for little Fabio while her parents worked long hours at the nursery, of being the family translator in business transactions — filled her with resentment as she entered adolescence. Her parents may have given up on going back to El Salvador, but Susana never had. Not a day had passed during those seven years in California when she hadn’t pictured the house where she grew up, its low stone wall enclosing tropical plants and flowering trees noisy with parrots and songbirds. Hundreds of times she had imagined herself eating breakfast on the patio, sharing the just-picked fruit with the family’s pet turtles, iguanas and rabbits. She imagined, in short, slipping seamlessly back into her old life as a Salvadoran.
Over and over she begged her parents to let her go back. Fearful for her safety, they always said no.
Then in 1991 the war ended. A peace agreement was signed. Brushing off her parents’ worries, 19-year-old Susana wasted no time. She used money she had earned as a legal assistant for the State of California to buy a ticket to San Salvador.
Her older brother met her at the family home. Nothing looked the way she remembered it. The 3-foot wall was now a 12-foot fortress. The house seemed to have shrunk. Her old bedroom felt tiny and unfamiliar. Her brother took her to a musty room in the back of the house where her toys had been stored. Expectantly, she lifted the lid on a cardboard box. A puff of dust and mold choked her. Cockroaches skittered away from the light. She jumped back, shuddering. Her long-imagined homecoming was crumbling like a piece of newsprint left too long in the sun.
“That was probably the most transformative experience for me,” she says. “I thought I would be returning to what I remembered from my childhood. But instead, it was like hitting a brick wall. All of a sudden, the person I thought I was really wasn’t me.
“I realized that I wasn’t 100 percent Salvadoran. At the same time, I wasn’t an American from the U.S. — I wouldn’t be accepted there 100 percent. I would have to create a hybrid identity that made sense to me. I returned to the U.S., but I returned with a whole new perspective.”
A Poet’s Voice
In search of that elusive self, she went off to the University of Iowa to study business and physics. “I thought I wanted to work at NASA,” she says, smiling a little sheepishly. She soon switched her major to Spanish. But even as she started working on her master’s, she remained uncertain about her path. That changed in one serendipitous instant. A professor offered his students extra credit to attend a bilingual poetry reading on campus. Susana, running late, half-jogged to the small auditorium. She wedged herself into a standing-room-only audience at the back of the room. What happened next shifted the fault lines of her inner landscape. As the poet’s voice resounded through the crowd, Susana realized she was hearing the words of an immigrant like herself. The poet’s story was Susana’s story — a story that, until that moment, she thought no one else had lived. She started to sob.
After the reading, a teary-eyed Susana walked up to the poet. “You have no idea what you have just done for me,” she said. “This is the very first time I’ve heard anybody else talk about what I’ve been experiencing all these years. I had no idea anybody else knew what it felt like.”
As if the poet had passed her a baton, she ran full-speed ahead with her newfound insight. She earned a Ph.D. in Romance languages at the University of New Mexico, focusing on sociolinguistics — the study of the relationship between language and society. Step 1 in all her sociolinguistic studies is connecting with Latino communities wherever she goes.
“What motivates my research,” she says, “is my drive to understand communities of Spanish-speaking people — how do these communities navigate issues of identity, language loss, access to education? How do they create a place of belonging for themselves?”
OSU's Global Impact - Sat, 02/02/2013 - 4:14pm
Even on a drizzly Sunday morning in November, Carniceria Mi Casita is hopping. The bustle of business begins on the sidewalk in front of the market, where a man brandishing a long fork tends a cast-iron barbeque the size of a battleship. As he flips the mounds of chicken and pork sizzling on the grate, a truck rumbles up to the curb. A delivery guy jumps out and starts unloading trays piled with pan dulce (Mexican pastries). Inside, a clerk banters in Spanish with customers as they browse the imported merchandise jamming the shelves, ceiling to floor — dried chilies in giant plastic bags, prepaid phone cards from Mexico Cellular and ATM Mexico, Barbie and SpongeBob piñatas, pickled cactus, hoja tamal (corn husks) by the dozens.
To the first-time visitor, it feels like slipping through a portal that drops you south of the border. Yet this blast of Mexicana thrives right on Main Street in Independence, an historic town southwest of Salem. For Susana Rivera-Mills, Carniceria Mi Casita is more than just one of the many Latino-owned businesses in Independence, which is 35 percent Hispanic. For the Oregon State researcher, the market is also a “point of contact,” a place where she and her students have connected with local Latinas and Latinos for a long-term linguistic study.
Over the past three years, her team has interviewed 125 residents at the market and at four other places — a Mexican restaurant, a housing complex for farm workers, a dress shop catering to Latinas and the Heritage Museum — about their personal and family histories as immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Now she begins the task of analyzing data, looking at patterns of language retention across generations to better understand how social networks shape those patterns.
“My research is about Spanish in the United States, but even more than that, it’s about understanding how communities of Spanish-speaking people navigate the complex issues surrounding loss of language,” says Rivera-Mills. “How does language affect their sense of belonging, their definition of community, their access to education?”
Language as Identity
Borrowing terminology from the environmental sciences, Rivera-Mills characterizes her work as the study of “linguistic landscapes” or the “ecology of languages.” She teases apart variables — age of arrival in the United States, educational attainment, indigenous roots, family cohesion and multiple language domains (school, church, bank, marketplace) — that determine whether Latinos retain their language and their ancestral identity as they create new lives in America.
“Susana’s research on language maintenance and shift during contact with the dominant culture is well regarded in the field,” notes Tobin Hansen, an OSU Spanish instructor who has participated in the Independence project.
It’s too soon to draw firm conclusions; it will take another year to crunch all the numbers. But the early findings from Independence have surprised Rivera-Mills, who has been doing sociolinguistic research for 15 years. They reveal a community that is holding onto Spanish for five and six generations, much longer than other Latinos she has studied in New Mexico, California, Arizona and elsewhere in Oregon. Spanish typically disappears by the third generation after arrival in the United States, as has been the pattern among European immigrants.
Recipe for Menudo
She attributes this robust language retention in part to Independence’s deeply rooted Latino heritage — passed down in the extended family, los padres to sus hijos, los abuelos to sus nietos — by hard-working, close-knit, tradition-loving families like the Oliveros.
On her way to interview the Oliveros, one of the oldest Latino families in Independence, Rivera-Mills swings by Carniceria Mi Casita to pick up some pan dulce as a thank-you offering. This morning, the meat counter displays hand-printed signs advertising panal (honeycomb) at $2.69 a pound and librillo (beef stomach) at $3.59 a pound — ingredients for making a traditional soup called menudo. And menudo is exactly what the family is serving to the stream of relatives that begins to arrive soon after church lets out. Amid the hubbub — a TV flickering, smart phones ringing, people coming and going — Rivera-Mills interviews family patriarch Felix Inocencio Oliveros, who, as a teenager, came to Independence from Texas with his family to help harvest 3,000 acres of asparagus. The year was 1961. For three years, they lived in a camp for agricultural workers.
“The conditions were not the greatest,” he recalls, sitting at the dining-room table of his daughter Cristina. “But you have to deal with what you’ve got. You make the best of it.” Besides, there was a silver lining: He was making $1 an hour in Oregon, compared to the 25 cents he got in Texas, where his dad had been a farm worker since World War II.
Family stories like these, told in Spanish over steaming bowls of chili-red menudo, are the community’s cultural DNA encoded in a shared language. Rivera-Mills’ job is to translate human experience into scholarship and, once all the standard deviations have been run and the statistics compiled, deeper understanding.
“The research I do is engaged research,” Rivera-Mills says. “It’s not a one-way street. It’s a partnership between academia and the community to create shared knowledge. You give the community your ear and listen, listen, listen.”
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 02/01/2013 - 3:41pm
The journey from idea to innovation turns, twists and hits the occasional roadblock. Follow the progress of an Oregon State idea that is making the wood-products industry more sustainable. Research by wood-science professor Kaichang Li has enabled Columbia Forest Products, North America’s largest manufacturer of hardwood plywood, to switch from adhesives made with formaldehyde to a safer alternative.
Illustration by Heather Miller
OSU's Global Impact - Fri, 02/01/2013 - 3:16pm
When Mary Crow paddles her kayak on Sparks Lake near Sisters, she can hear the water draining into the lava tubes below. Listening to the water gurgle, thinking about the ancient eruptions that formed Central Oregon’s porous landscape, makes her shiver with wonder and delight.
Dave Bone can’t stop talking about the wild wolves he spotted in Yellowstone Park last summer. If he tells you the story more than once — about how the pack jostled and tumbled playfully on a meadow where bison grazed, unperturbed — he should be forgiven. His awe is boundless and unabashed.
Crow and Bone are lifelong naturalists. Only on the land do they feel whole. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, author of the theory of multiple intelligences, believes this bone-deep connection to the earth is innate. He calls it “naturalist intelligence” or “nature smart.” Just as some babies are born with special gifts for music or math, Gardner argues, others come into the world with an exceptional sensitivity to nature.
It is this gift, this abiding passion, that Oregon State University’s Oregon Master Naturalist program (OMN) was designed to embrace and extend. “We are building support for wise stewardship of the environment and deeper understanding of natural resource management,” says Jason O’Brien who coordinates the program for the Oregon State Extension Service. It is one of nearly 40 similar programs around the nation.
Crow and Bone are two of the first 46 participants to complete all 80-plus hours of training for OMN, which began as a pilot effort on the Oregon coast in 2010. An online curriculum gave them an overview of Oregon’s biology, geology and ecology as well as natural resources stewardship and management. They then met face-to-face with university scientists and other experts for classroom instruction and fieldwork in one of three ecoregions: East Cascades, Oregon coast and Willamette Valley. (Additional ecoregions will be brought into the program pending demand.)
Instruction spanned every perspective: macro to micro, flora and fauna, volcanic and tectonic forces shaping the landscape. One Saturday, the coastal participants met on the headlands at Cape Perpetua. There, Bob Lillie, an emeritus professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, told them about geological phenomena like tsunamis and plate tectonics. Another time, the class convened at the Tillamook State Forest, where Frank Burris, an Extension watershed educator, and Glenn Ahrens, an Extension forester, delved into watersheds and riparian zones. Jamie Doyle, an educator with Sea Grant Extension, taught a class on Pacific Ocean fisheries and marine protected areas.
What the graduates do with their expertise looks different from place to place, person to person. One person might collect data as a citizen scientist, counting dead seabirds for COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team), for instance, or monitoring water quality for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Another person might be a guide, leading interpretive hikes for the Deschutes Land Trust. A third might opt for hands-on stewardship, planting aspen seedlings or building beaver barriers for a local watershed council. People who are less physically active might greet visitors at an interpretive center or use their skills behind the scenes designing brochures, editing newsletters or updating websites.
Hooking into an existing organization — either a natural resources agency or an environmental nonprofit — is the common denominator for all Master Naturalists, who must volunteer at least 40 hours yearly to keep their certification.
“The program leverages the time and talents of highly capable volunteers,” notes O’Brien, whose degrees are in wildlife biology and natural resources interpretation, and who is himself a fervent naturalist. “It can be a huge help to private and public organizations, especially in times of tight budgets or when professional staff can’t accomplish all the services they’re mandated to provide. It’s an embodiment of the land grant mission — serving the needs of the public.”Rimrock Ranch
Guiding tours for the Deschutes Land Trust has been, for years, an outgrowth of Mary Crow’s passion for the land.
Anne and Philip Matthews have explored every twist and tangle of the South Slough, which became the nation’s first national estuarine research reserve in the 1970s.
With a bucketful of tools and a pocketful of seed packets, Thornton attracts clusters of kids like crape myrtle attracts honeybees.
An Eagle Scout’s recent segue into Oregon Master Naturalists was just a logical extension of what he’s been doing for a half-century.
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/31/2013 - 4:08pm
MILWAUKIE – Kids may not love finding a squash on their dinner plate. But when that squash is growing on a leafy vine in their school garden, it can be an object of delight. “Hey, this looks like a UFO!” declares one fourth-grader at Concord Elementary School, holding up a white, disk-shaped squash called a patty pan. Exclaims another, “The tiny tomatoes hanging on this branch look like raindrops — like it’s raining tomatoes!”
Poetry in Motion
It’s as if a bunch of pint-sized poets have been unleashed on this autumn day in Milwaukie, a Portland suburb. The metaphors and similes are as plentiful as the tomatoes here in the Willamette Valley ecoregion. “This looks like a witch’s nose!” one boy says, holding up a red orb with a hooked protrusion. “Look!” a girl calls out, dangling five or six bean pods in front of her chin. “I have a beard of beans!”
Set loose in the school garden at harvest time, the students’ imaginations are on overdrive. But amid the chaos, the kids are learning about the art of gardening. Teaching them to pull weeds, prep soil and sow seeds for cool-weather vegetables is Maggie Thornton, an OSU alum and Oregon Master Naturalist participant. “I like the way the program ties everything together — vegetation, geology, climate,” she says. “It recaptures the idea of the citizen scientist.”
With a bucketful of tools and a pocketful of seed packets, Thornton attracts clusters of kids like crape myrtle attracts honeybees. Growing things is, for her, “just a very natural part of life.” She’s been gardening since she was old enough to toddle around the family plot in Bend where she grew up. So a few years ago when her daughter’s first-grade class was growing sunflower seeds in jars for a science project, she was taken aback by the kids’ astonishment at seeing seeds germinate and sprout for the first time. “It was shocking and sad to see how many of them had no idea how nature works,” she recalls. “I decided I wanted to help get kids outside and connected to the natural world.” As the marketing manager for a horticulture company, she started a program to help schools put in gardens.
She stands back from the hubbub to watch the fourth-graders dig seed troughs for packets of radishes and turnips, wrangle with stubborn weeds, and shriek over the occasional slug or daddy longlegs. “It’s amazing and gratifying to see their reactions,” Thornton says. “They’re so joyful. They’re so delighted to be outdoors.”
Some of the kids have even made the connection between growing veggies and eating them. “You can slice up that patty pan and fry it in butter,” one girl observes. “It’s really good!”
See more stories from the Corps of Discovery.
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/31/2013 - 3:37pm
MEDFORD – One evening when he was 8, Dave Bone’s mom bundled him up against the cold, set him on a wooden sled and told him to hang on tight. Then, leaning into the night, she pulled the sled through the snowy streets of Greene, Iowa. At City Hall on 2nd Street, she brought the sled to a stop and took her son by the hand.
Unbeknownst to him, little Dave was about to become a member of Cub Scout Pack 26, which was meeting on the second floor of the old brick building. “This looks like fun,” he remembers thinking when he walked in and saw the cluster of boys in their blue-and-yellow uniforms.
Beverly Bone couldn’t have imagined that 55 years later and 2,000 miles away, her son still would be scouting. That fateful sled ride launched him on a lifetime of outdoor exploration, service and education. This Eagle Scout’s recent segue into Oregon Master Naturalists was just a logical extension of what he’s been doing for a half-century.
One mist-gray morning in Southern Oregon, Bone is striding along the shore at Lake of the Woods when a flash of white catches his eye. “Bald eagle!” he calls out, pointing toward a reedy promontory. He quickly sets up his spotting scope as the bird unfolds its massive wings and lifts off, disappearing into the dense forest that hems the lake. “Hot dog!” he exclaims. Then, again, quietly to himself, “Hot dog.”
His excited reaction might suggest that this was his first eagle sighting. But Bone — a retired schoolteacher who taught science in the logging community of Butte Falls — has seen hundreds of eagles, “clouds” of snow geese and countless other raptors and waterfowl while tramping the mountains, valleys and wetlands near his Medford home.
While he loves birds, he’s an equal-opportunity wildlife enthusiast. Beavers, yellow-bellied marmots, flying squirrels — even the tiniest chipmunk and lowliest skunk — stir his sense of wonder even after many years as a Boy Scout camp administrator and, more recently, a volunteer at Camp McLoughlin on Lake of the Woods. Not content to stay inland, Bone also serves as a site captain and interpreter for Whale Watching Spoken Here (a program of the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation) and as education chair for Shoreline Education for Awareness (a “friends group” of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
“Scenery is fantastic, but it’s the wildlife that makes it come alive,” he says. To emphasize his point, he reaches into the pocket of his rain pants and pulls out a clump of folded bills bound by a silver money clip, a gift from his wife, Bea. He reads aloud the inscription, a quote from the 1972 ecology movie Home. “If all the animals were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of spirit.”
The Wow Factor
Sharing nature has been his calling ever since earning his master’s in outdoor education at Southern Oregon University after he moved west with his bride, a native Oregonian. “The three key words in the mission of Oregon Master Naturalists are explore, connect, contribute,” he says. “Those are the same concepts I work with in the Boy Scouts. Taking people outdoors, guiding discovery, encouraging conservation — that’s what both programs are all about.”
For him, it all comes together in the astonished gasp of a wide-eyed child. “I call it the ‘wow factor,’” he says. “It warms the cockles of my heart.”
See more stories from the Corps of Discovery.
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/31/2013 - 3:18pm
COOS BAY – Lots of people fantasize about appearing on American Idol or Wheel of Fortune. But Oregon Field Guide? Not so much — that is, unless you happen to be Anne Farrell-Matthews and Philip Matthews. Whether they’re heaving bags of oysters around a sandbar or hauling groundwater monitors across a salt marsh, this pair of Oregon Master Naturalists could easily imagine OPB TV host Steve Amen showing up with a video crew. For the Coos Bay couple, joining in on ecosystem science and restoration is that glamorous.
So how is it that this hip couple in their 40s gets all excited about red tree voles, beaver scat and shimmy worms? Why would a general contractor and a graphic designer get up at 5 a.m. to wade around in the muck trying to save native oysters? Why would a pair of avid surfers forego great waves to study physical oceanography and the Cascadia Subduction Zone late into the night?
Partly because the South Slough runs through their veins. Philip tramped these mudflats and salt marshes relentlessly as a kid, his Irish setter Britta beside him. Anne came to Coos Bay later, at 19, from landlocked Denver where her bedroom walls had been plastered with whale posters. Finally, she felt like she could breathe. Together, they’ve explored every twist and tangle of the slough, which became the nation’s first national estuarine research reserve in the 1970s.
The other answer is more cerebral. It has to do with making amends and taking ownership. It has to do with helping to heal the landscape they love, a landscape that has been stressed by overharvesting, pollution and population growth over the past century and a half.
Philip’s motives are particularly personal. “I’m half French, half redneck,” he likes to joke. Describing his mom’s family, the French side of the clan, as “extreme environmentalists,” he hammers home his point by saying, “My uncle once chained himself to City Hall to protect shorebirds from hunters.” It’s his dad’s side for which he’s now making atonement. “My dad came from people who took advantage of the environment — poaching, fishing for salmon with dynamite, some pretty serious abuses of nature,” he explains. “I want to help offset some of the negative stuff.”
Turning the Tide
One August morning just as the sun is displacing the moon, Philip and Anne are skimming across the slough in a skiff with a team of scientists, students and volunteers, all Velcroed into brown neoprene chest waders and slip-proof boots. They set anchor at a spit called Younker Point. Footprints of shorebirds trace trails in the wet sand as the team, working fast against the tide, digs up bundle after bundle of oysters for transfer to a new location as part of a NOAA-funded project led by the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Restoring native Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) to the slough is the project’s long-term goal, and preliminary findings show that the oysters, transplanted from Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Tillamook, could survive and grow. But over time, excessive siltation turned out to be a problem at Younker Point, explains Dave Landkamer, an aquaculturist with Oregon Sea Grant, who’s helping with the oyster transfer.
“They’ve been suffocated in silt,” Landkamer says. “You can see by the ripples in the wet sand that there’s too much wave and tidal energy here for good oyster habitat. “
That’s why, after wrestling the mesh bags from the sand’s sucking grip, the team slings them into the skiff and another small boat for relocation. The morning sun is just cresting the treetops as the team speeds toward Long Island Point, a place where ancient shell middens are evidence of long-ago oyster beds. Alongshore, white egrets and blue herons stalk their prey. Cormorants circle overhead. Gulls cry out. A bald eagle rises from the pinnacle of a fir.
Out at the point, the team hurriedly stacks the bags to create a reef of oyster shells in hopes that the “Olys” will settle and spawn. This is just an early stage of longer-term studies. The National Estuarine Research Reserve Science Collaborative, which brings local stakeholders into its research process, is funding the next phase of the investigation. Someday, native oysters may once again be abundant in the South Slough.
As the team disembarks back at Charleston Bay’s boat basin, Philip’s face is smudged with mud. Anne is wet to the skin from the saltwater that “topped over” her waders. So it’s more than a little incongruous that their expressions fall somewhere between serenity and ecstasy. Clearly, getting sweaty, soggy and dirty is exactly what they signed up for when they chose to become Oregon Master Naturalists.
“I’m cold and I’m muddy,” Anne says with a huge grin. “And I had a great time!”
Then she adds reflectively: “Estuaries are the nurseries of the planet. If I can contribute in some tiny way to keeping them healthy, that’s what I want to do. After all, this is our own backyard.”
Read more about Oregon Master Naturalists in Corps of Discovery.
OSU's Global Impact - Thu, 01/31/2013 - 3:18pm
SISTERS – A group of hikers stands on the rim of Whychus Canyon, a steep V gouging the rangeland. The canyon’s exposed layers reveal 5 million years of geologic history. Far below, Whychus Creek glints among aspen and cottonwood whose leaves have turned the color of butter. Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson command the western horizon.
On this bright October day at Rimrock Ranch — where Red Anguses ruminate contentedly, saddle horses graze peacefully, and the breeze is as benign as a baby’s breath — guide Mary Crow is telling a story about the natural history of this protected place when someone calls, “Look!” Every face turns just as a golden eagle comes into view, soaring on wings as wide as a human is tall. Riding a thermal along the rimrock, its shadow skimming the yellow rock face, the bird is so close the hikers can almost touch it.
Trek Through Time
The eagle’s passage sets the tone for the next four hours — a magical trek into a landscape forged over eons by eruptions and floods, altered by early settlers and 20th-century engineers, and now being restored to ecosystem health by the Deschutes Land Trust, which is sponsoring the hike.
Guiding tours for the Land Trust has been, for years, an outgrowth of Crow’s passion for the land. As a lifelong adventurer in the East Cascades ecoregion, she has been getting to know these mountains, rivers and rangelands as she hikes, skis and kayaks. So when she heard about Oregon State’s new Master Naturalist program, this self-described “wannabe scientist” jumped at the opportunity.
“I always felt I had gaps in my knowledge,” says Crow, a retired librarian and former technician at Intel in Hillsboro. “Now, with the Master Naturalist program, I feel like I’m able to give more to the participants in my tours.”
As she leads the hikers — mostly retired professionals including a school superintendent, a geophysicist and a university professor — she points out the wind-sculpted rock towers called hoodoos that jut upward from the canyon walls. She talks about the Deschutes Formation, layers of sedimentary and volcanic deposits laid down between the Miocene and Pliocene, upon which Rimrock Ranch’s 1,100 acres sit. The Land Trust, she says, is removing juniper (which sucks up tons of water) and restoring Ponderosa pine (which smells like a caramel latte if you get close enough to sniff the bark). Native grasses are coming back as local “weed warriors” eradicate invasive plants.
At the bottom of the canyon, the hikers contemplate the creek that once ran thick with steelhead. Someday, Crow tells them, Chinook salmon and steelhead will once again swim and spawn in the Whychus, a Deschutes River tributary originating in the Three Sisters Wilderness and channelized in the 1960s to control flooding. It will reclaim its meandering path through the meadow as part of the Land Trust’s agreement with landowners Bob and Gayle Baker, who have put the ranch into a conservation easement for perpetual protection.
The sun slips past its zenith, and the group loops back toward the trailhead. Crow takes a whiskbroom from the backseat of her all-wheel-drive Toyota and shows the hikers how to brush their boots before heading home. It’s not dust she’s worried about. It’s invasive seed heads. “We don’t want these ending up over at the Metolius River,” she explains.
Read more stories about Oregon Master Naturalists in the Corps of Discovery.