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OSU part of major grant to study Southern Ocean carbon cycle

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 9:24am
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A new six-year, $21 million initiative funded by the NSF will explore the role of carbon and heat exchanges in the vast Southern Ocean – and their potential impacts on climate change.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new six-year, $21 million initiative funded by the National Science Foundation will explore the role of carbon and heat exchanges in the vast Southern Ocean – and their potential impacts on climate change.

The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling program will be headquartered at Princeton University, and include researchers at several institutions, including Oregon State University. It is funded by NSF’s Division of Polar Programs, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

The Southern Ocean acts as a carbon “sink” by absorbing as much as half of the human-derived carbon in the atmosphere and much of the planet’s excess heat. Yet little is known of this huge body of water that accounts for 30 percent of the world’s ocean area.

Under this new program known by the acronym SOCCOM, Princeton and 10 partner institutions will create a physical and biogeochemical portrait of the ocean using hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica. The floats, which will be deployed over the next five years, will collect seawater profiles using sophisticated sensors to measure pH, oxygen and nitrate levels, temperature and salinity – from the ocean surface to a depth of 1,000 meters, according to Laurie Juranek, an Oregon State University oceanographer and project scientist.

“This will be the first combined large-scale observational and modeling program of the entire Southern Ocean,” said Juranek, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “It is a very important region, but difficult to access – hence the use of robotic floats to collect data. However, not everything that we need to know can be measured by sensors, so we’ll need to get creative.”

Juranek's role in this project is to develop relationships between the measured variables and those that can't be measured directly by a sensor but are needed for understanding Southern Ocean carbon dioxide exchanges. These relationships can be applied to the float data as well as to high-resolution models. To do this work she is partnering with colleagues at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

In addition to its role in absorbing carbon and heat, the Southern Ocean delivers nutrients to lower-latitude surface waters that are critical to ocean ecosystems around the world, said program director Jorge Sarmiento, Princeton's George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering and director of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. And as levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere, models suggest that the impacts of ocean acidification are projected to be most severe in the Southern Ocean, he added.

"The scarcity of observations in the Southern Ocean and inadequacy of earlier models, combined with its importance to the Earth's carbon and climate systems, means there is tremendous potential for groundbreaking research in this region," Sarmiento said.

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Laurie Juranek, 541-737-2368; ljuranek@coas.oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

Study resolves discrepancy in Greenland temperatures during end of last ice age

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 2:35pm
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A new study of three ice cores from Greenland, dating to the end of the last ice age, helps to resolve a long-standing paradox over when that warming occurred.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study of three ice cores from Greenland documents the warming of the large ice sheet at the end of the last ice age – resolving a long-standing paradox over when that warming occurred.

Large ice sheets covered North America and northern Europe some 20,000 years ago during the coldest part of the ice age, when global average temperatures were about four degrees Celsius (or seven degrees Fahrenheit) colder than during pre-industrial times. And then changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun increased the solar energy reaching Greenland. Beginning some 18,000 years ago, release of carbon from the deep ocean led to a graduate rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).

Yet past analysis of ice cores from Greenland did not show any warming response as would be expected from an increase in CO2 and solar energy flux, the researchers note.

In this new study, funded by the National Science Foundation and published this week in the journal Science, scientists reconstructed air temperatures by examining ratios of nitrogen isotopes in air trapped within the ice instead of isotopes in the ice itself, which had been used in past studies.

Not only did the new analysis detect significant warming in response to increasing atmospheric CO2, it documents a warming trend at a rate closely matching what climate change models predict should have happened as the Earth shifted out of its ice age, according to lead author Christo Buizert, a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University and lead author on the Science article.

“The Greenland isotope records from the ice itself suggest that temperatures 12,000 years ago during the so-called Younger Dryas period near the end of the ice age were virtually the same in Greenland as they were 18,000 years ago when much of the northern hemisphere was still covered in ice,” Buizert said. “That never made much sense because between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago atmospheric CO2 levels rose quite a bit.”

“But when you reconstruct the temperature history using nitrogen isotope ratios as a proxy for temperature, you get a much different picture,” Buizert pointed out. “The nitrogen-based temperature record shows that by 12,000 years ago, Greenland temperatures had already warmed by about five degrees (Celsius), very close to what climate models predict should have happened, given the conditions.”

Reconstructing temperatures by using water isotopes provides useful information about when temperatures shift but can be difficult to calibrate because of changes in the water cycle, according to Edward Brook, an Oregon State paleoclimatologist and co-author on the Science study.

“The water isotopes are delivered in Greenland through snowfall and during an ice age, snowfall patterns change,” Brook noted. “It may be that the presence of the giant ice sheet made snow more likely to fall in the summer instead of winter, which can account for the warmer-than-expected temperatures because the snow records the temperature at the time it fell.”

In addition to the gradual warming of five degrees (C) over a 6,000-year period beginning 18,000 years ago the study investigated two periods of abrupt warming and one period of abrupt cooling documented in the new ice cores. The researchers say their leading hypothesis is that all three episodes are tied to changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which brings warm water from the tropics into the high northern latitudes.

The first episode caused a jump in Greenland’s air temperatures of 10-15 degrees (C) in just a few decades beginning about 14,700 years ago. An apparent shutdown of the AMOC about 12,800 years ago caused an abrupt cooling of some 5-9 degrees (C), also over a matter of decades.

When the AMOC was reinvigorated again about 11,600 years ago, it caused a jump in temperatures of 8-, 11 degrees (C), which heralded the end of the ice age and the beginning of the climatically warm and stable Holocene period, which allowed human civilization to develop.

“For these extremely abrupt transitions, our data show a clear fingerprint of AMOC variations, which had not yet been established in the ice core studies,” noted Buizert, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.  “Other evidence for AMOC changes exists in the marine sediment record and our work confirms those findings.”

In their study, the scientists examined three ice cores from Greenland and looked at the gases trapped inside the ice for changes in the isotopic ration of nitrogen, which is very sensitive to temperature change. They found that temperatures in northwest Greenland did not change nearly as much as those in southeastern Greenland – closest to the North Atlantic – clearly suggesting the influence of the AMOC.

“The last deglaciation is a natural example of global warming and climate change,” Buizert said. “It is very important to study this period because it can help us better understand the climate system and how sensitive the surface temperature is to atmospheric CO2.”

“The warming that we observed in Greenland at the end of the ice age had already been predicted correctly by climate models several years ago,” Buizert added. “This gives us more confidence that these models also predict future temperatures correctly.”

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Christo Buizert, 541-737-1209

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Categories: Research news

Use of dengue vaccine may cause short-term spikes in its prevalence

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 1:55pm
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A vaccine for dengue fever or some other diseases like it could actually cause temporary spikes in incidence of the disease in the first years after they are used.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As researchers continue to work toward vaccines for serious tropical diseases such as dengue fever, experts caution in a new report that such vaccines will probably cause temporary but significant spikes in the disease in the years after they are first used.

This counter-intuitive and unwanted result could lead to frustrated policy makers, a skeptical public and concerns that the vaccine is making things worse instead of better, researchers say.

In fact, it will just be the natural result of complex interactions between less-than-perfect vaccine protection and routine fluctuations in the populations of insects who carry the diseases.

“Our analysis suggests that if we develop and widely use a vaccine for dengue fever, there may later be spikes in the incidence of the disease that are two to three times higher than its normal level,” said Jan Medlock, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Oregon State University, and expert on the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease.

“We can explain why this will happen and show how, in the long run, vaccine use will clearly result in fewer cases of disease,” Medlock said. “Our concern is to warn people in advance about this issue, so that policy makers and the public don’t freak out and lose faith in the vaccination programs.”

This research, published in Epidemiology and Infection, was done by experts at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Clemson University, both of which supported the studies. Scientists used mathematical modeling to examine the quirks of infectious disease transmission that may lead to this quandary. The work was specific to dengue fever, but may also be relevant to other diseases for which vaccines are being sought, such as malaria, and in which the level of protection is less than total.

Dengue fever is a serious illness that affects about 50 million people a year, and for which researchers are hoping to develop effective vaccines in the near future. It’s not usually fatal but is extremely common in the tropics and subtropics, and has re-emerged in recent decades as the use of insecticides such as DDT has been stopped.

There are several serotypes, or strains of the dengue virus, that are spread by mosquitoes. One infection provides some protection, and two infections usually make a person resistant for the rest of their life. In Thailand, where the disease is prevalent, about 80 percent of children have two infections by the age of 11 and develop resistance. Dengue fever is found in 100 countries around the world and 2.5 billion people are at risk of infection.

“The problem, if and when we develop and use a vaccine, is that it will provide some, but not complete protection, and it will interrupt the natural, fairly steady rate of infections among children,” Medlock said.

In this scenario, the beginning of a vaccination program will slow the numbers of children getting the disease – for a while. But it’s expected that a dengue vaccine will not provide total protection against infection. Then, during a period when naturally fluctuating mosquito populations reach an unusually high level, a disproportionate number of children – who are still vulnerable to infection and have never had the disease – will become infected in a short period.

This could cause loss of faith in the vaccination program among the public or policy makers who have never seen such high levels of the disease, stretch the capabilities of health care facilities and workers to care for the sick, and in a worst-case scenario lead people to avoid the vaccine, researchers said. Some short-term spikes could even be as high as seven times the average rate, they said.

“In fact, we conclude in this analysis that over a 15-year period, a vaccination program will clearly reduce the number of overall infections,” Medlock said. “These significant spikes will mostly occur as the program is beginning. What we need to do is help people understand these forces so they anticipate them.”

A possible way to deal with this phenomenon, researchers said, is literally to vaccinate fewer people. This would cause higher numbers of people to get the disease in the long run but reduce the intensity of the spikes and the associated demands on a health care system.

The levels of disease will fluctuate based on such variables as location, climate, the efficacy of a vaccine, the numbers of people vaccinated, surges in insect populations, and other factors. This phenomenon may have occurred, or may occur in the future, with almost any vaccine that provides partial, but not total protection against infection.

College of Veterinary Medicine Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Jan Medlock

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Dengue transmission

Categories: Research news

OSU launches new online programs to decrease high-risk alcohol use, sexual assaults

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 1:06pm
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Oregon State University has introduced a new series of required online courses aimed at combating alcohol abuse and sexual assault.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has introduced a new series of required online courses aimed at combating alcohol abuse and sexual assault.

The on-line programs will reach approximately 6,400 students, said Rob Reff, coordinator of substance abuse prevention programs within OSU’s Student Health Services Department.

Incoming first-year students to OSU’s Corvallis campus will be required to take AlcoholEdu, which is designed to help students make informed and healthy choices regarding alcohol and other drug use. It is not an anti-alcohol campaign, according to administrators, but rather an educational program giving students the tools they need in situations where drugs and alcohol are involved.

OSU is also requiring the sexual violence prevention course HAVEN for all incoming students – including those at OSU-Cascades and through Ecampus – in order to comply with the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act that went into effect in March of 2014. This course helps educate students on sexual assault, consent, and how to be an active bystander.

 The OSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is requiring both programs for all its athletes.  

“OSU believes it is the responsibility of all students, faculty, and staff to create a community that encourages and promotes the well-being of our campus and the broader community,” Reff, said. “These two programs will provide all OSU students with an understanding of not only how to keep themselves safe but how to help fellow students.”

Students must complete these programs prior to arriving on campus for fall term 2014.  While at Oregon State, students will receive additional prevention and education on these topics from Student Health Services, University Housing and Dining Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and other departments.

Program administrators say these combined efforts will help students achieve academic success, health, and wellness while fostering a community of care for one another.

For more information: http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/welcome

 

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Theresa Hogue Source: 

Robert Reff, 541-737-7564

Categories: Research news

OSU seeks public’s help to transcribe historic letters from start of the Cold War

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:05am
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A portion of the records from Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists are now available in an online exhibit through the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at Oregon State University Libraries and Press, and help is being sought from the public to transcribe the letters in the collection.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – After the atomic attack on Nagasaki at the end of World War II, America’s jubilation at the ending of the conflict turned to fear as the real implications of nuclear war began to sink in. In 1946, Albert Einstein founded the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to educate the public on the dangers of atomic warfare and the mounting need for world peace.

A portion of the records from that committee are now available in an online exhibit through the Special Collections & Archives Research Center at Oregon State University Libraries and Press, and help is being sought from the public to transcribe the letters in the collection.

The exhibit includes documents and letters to and from the nine scientists making up the committee, including appeals for donations to support the group’s mission of peace.

Though only a portion of the collection has been loaded into the exhibit so far, each letter will be digitized and available for reading within the exhibit. Special Collections is crowdsourcing transcription of the letters, and encourages viewers to help create a full-text database of the letters' contents.

The collection was received at OSU as part of the personal papers of OSU alumnus and Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, who was a member of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists. It includes thousands of letters, and responses to them, reflecting appeals from ordinary Americans. Citizens sent anything from $1 to $10,000, along with letters expressing deep fear about the new world they lived in. In a personal and intimate tone, they wrote to Einstein expressing their distress at the idea of such a powerful and destructive weapon, and lamented the potential for atomic war.

The exhibit explores the work of the committee and illustrates its story through items from Special Collection’s extensive nuclear history collections. It highlights different types of letters received by the committee, including letters of criticism, encouragement, and advice, and closes with a brief look at the impact of the committee’s efforts. 

The exhibit also features maps, timelines, and other interactive features via Viewshare, a platform from the Library of Congress that creates visualizations of digitized cultural heritage collections.

Viewers of the exhibit can also browse a comprehensive list of tags for each letter, showing city, state, and donation amount, as well as the occupation and organizational affiliation of the sender.

The exhibit is of interest to a broad swath of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including the history of science and technology, peace studies, public policy, sociology, political science, communication, and more.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Theresa Hogue Source: 

Anne Bahde, 541-737-3331 

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Categories: Research news

Greener neighborhoods lead to better birth outcomes, new research shows

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 8:44am
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Mothers who live in greener neighborhoods are more likely to deliver at full term and their babies are born at higher weights, a new study shows.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mothers who live in neighborhoods with plenty of grass, trees or other green vegetation are more likely to deliver at full term and their babies are born at higher weights, compared to mothers who live in urban areas that aren’t as green, a new study shows.

The findings held up even when results were adjusted for factors such as neighborhood income, exposure to air pollution, noise, and neighborhood walkability, according to researchers at Oregon State University and the University of British Columbia.

“This was a surprise,” said Perry Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State and lead author of the study. “We expected the association between greenness and birth outcomes to disappear once we accounted for other environmental exposures such as air pollution and noise. The research really suggests that greenness affects birth outcomes in other ways, such as psychologically or socially.”

Researchers aren’t sure yet where the link between greenness and birth outcome is. More study is needed to determine if additional green space provides more social opportunities and enhances a person’s sense of belonging in the community, or if it has a psychological effect, reducing stress and depression, Hystad said.

In a study of more than 64,000 births, researchers found that very pre-term births were 20 percent lower and moderate pre-term births were 13 percent lower for infants whose mothers lived in greener neighborhoods.

They also found that fewer infants from greener neighborhoods were considered small for their gestational age. Babies from the greener neighborhoods weighed 45 grams more at birth than infants from less green neighborhoods, Hystad said.

The study establishes an important link between residential “greenness” and birth outcomes that could have significant implications for public health, said Hystad, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health.

“From a medical standpoint, those are small changes in birth weight, but across a large population, those are substantial differences that would have a significant impact on the health of infants in a community,” Hystad said.

Babies born early or underweight often have more health and developmental problems, not just at birth but also as they continue to grow up, and the cost to care for pre-term and underweight infants also can be much higher, Hystad said.

Results of the study were published recently in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives.” Co-authors were Hugh W. Davies, Lawrence Frank, Josh Van Loon, Lillian Tamburic and Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia; and Ulrike Gehring of Utrecht University in The Netherlands. The research was supported by a grant from Health Canada.

The study is also part of a growing body of work that indicates green space has a positive influence on health, Hystad said. Researchers examined more than 64,000 births in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area between 1999 and 2002, for individual environmental factors such as exposure to green space that might affect birth outcomes.

Since half the world’s population lives in urban areas, it’s important to understand how different aspects of the built environment – the buildings, parks and other human-made space we live in – might affect health, researchers said.

“We know a lot about the negative influences such as living closer to major roads, but demonstrating that a design choice can have benefits is really uplifting,” said Brauer, the study’s senior author. “With the high cost of healthcare, modifying urban design features such as increasing green space may turn out to be extremely cost-effective strategies to prevent disease, while at the same time also providing ecological benefits.”

It’s unclear how much or what type of green space is of most benefit to developing infants, but researchers do know that adding a planter to the patio or a tree to the sidewalk median probably won’t make a significant difference in birth outcomes.

“Planting one tree likely won’t help,” Hystad said. “You don’t really see the beneficial effects of green space until you reach a certain threshold of greenness in a neighborhood.”

One of the next steps for researchers is to better understand what that threshold is and why it makes a difference.

“We know green space is good. How do we maximize that benefit to improve health outcomes?” Hystad said. “The answer could have significant implications for land use planning and development.”

College of Public Health and Human Sciences Media Contact:  Michelle Klampe Source: 

Perry Hystad, 541-737-4829, perry.hystad@oregonstate.edu or Katherine Came, 604-822-0530, Katherine.came@ubc.ca

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This map shows levels of greenness in Vancouver, British Columbia. Babies in greener areas had higher birthweights.

Researcher Perry Hystad

Categories: Research news

NSF grant gives OSU unique materials characterization capability

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 10:35am
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A major new grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire a $1.4 million instrument package will enhance the materials science research at OSU.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a $648,000 “major research instrumentation” grant from the National Science Foundation, part of a $1.4 million package to allow the university to acquire a near-ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, or XPS system.

The grant will be matched by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, and Oregon BEST.

“There will be no other XPS system in the world that has all the same capabilities,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor of chemical engineering at OSU and the grant’s principal investigator. “This laboratory will enhance interdisciplinary research and education programs throughout the scientific and engineering communities.”

Conventional XPS technology is a surface analysis technique, which provides the composition, chemical and electronic states of surfaces and interfaces from materials or thin-film structures — information needed in many applications such as catalysis, corrosion, adhesion, semiconductor and dielectric materials, and magnetic media. XPS is used in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, healthcare, and petrochemical industries, and samples under study must be kept under ultra-high vacuum conditions during the analysis.

“A unique aspect of this XPS system is that it allows us to study reactions at pressures close to those on the Earth’s surface, while typical XPS systems operate near lunar surface pressures,” said Herman. “These pressure extremes can significantly change the chemistries that can take place.”

The near-ambient XPS system will be the foundation of the surface characterization laboratory in Johnson Hall, a state-of-the-art engineering building and the future home of the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. It will be available to researchers from OSU, the Oregon University System, and national and international collaborators from academia, government laboratories, and industry.

College of Engineering Media Contact: 

Thuy Tran, 541-737-0787

Source: 

Greg Herman, 541-737-2496

Categories: Research news

Study: Pacific Northwest shows warming trend over past century-plus

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 9:23am
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Annual mean temperature in the Northwest has warmed by about 1.3 degrees (F) since the early 20th century – a warming trend that has been accelerating over the past 3-4 decades.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The annual mean temperature in the Pacific Northwest has warmed by about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since the early 20th century – a gradual warming trend that has been accelerating over the past 3-4 decades and is attributed to anthropogenic, or human, causes.

The study is one of the first to isolate the role of greenhouse gases associated with regional warming, the authors say. It was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Climate, a publication of the American Meteorological Society.

“The amount of warming may not sound like a lot to the casual observer, but we already are starting to see some of the impacts and what is particularly significant is that the rate of warming is increasing,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and a co-author on the study.

“Just a 1.3-degree increase has lengthened the ‘freeze-free’ season by 2-3 weeks and is equivalent to moving the snowline 600 feet up the mountain,” Mote added. “At the rate the temperature is increasing, the next 1.3-degree bump will happen much more quickly.”

In their study, the researchers looked at temperatures and precipitation from 1901 to 2012 in the Northwest, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, and the northwestern tip of Wyoming. They examined four different factors to determine the influence of human activities, including greenhouse gases and aerosols; solar cycles; volcanic eruptions; and naturally occurring phenomena including El Niño events and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Using what is called a “multilinear regression” approach, they were able to tease out the influences of the different factors. Volcanic activity, for example, led to cooler temperatures in 1961, 1982 and 1991. Likewise, El Niño events led to warming in numerous years.

“Natural variation can explain much of the change from year to year, but it cannot account for this long-term warming trend,” noted David Rupp, a research associate with the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and co-author on the report. “Anthropogenic forcing was the most significant predictor of, and leading contributor to, the warming.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • The Northwest experienced relatively cool periods from 1910-25 and from 1945-60, and a warm period around 1940 and from the mid-1980s until the present.
  • The warmest 10-year period has been from 1998 to 2007, and very few years since 1980 have had below average annual mean temperatures.
  • The most apparent warming trend is in the coldest night of the year, which has warmed significantly in recent decades.
  • The only cooling trend the study documented was for spring temperatures the last three decades and is tied to climate variability and increasing precipitation during those spring months.

“The spring has been robustly wetter,” Mote said, “and that has brought some cooler temperatures for a couple of months. But it has been drier in the fall and winter, and the warming in fall and winter has been steepest since the 1970s.”

Lead author John Abatzoglou of the University of Idaho said that the study ties the warming trend to human activities.

“Climate is a bit like a symphony where different factors like El Niño, solar variability, volcanic eruptions and manmade greenhouse emissions all represent different instruments,” Abatzoglou said. “At regional scales like in the Northwest, years or decades can be dominated by natural climate variability, thereby muffling or compounding the tones of human-induced warming.

“Once you silence the influence of natural factors,” he said, “the signal of warming due to human causes is clear – and it is only getting louder.”

The researchers also explored but were unable to find any link between warming in the Northwest over the past century and solar variability.

A major concern, the authors say, is that the warming seems to be increasing.

“Climate is complex and you can get significant variations from year to year,” Mote said. “You have to step back and look at the big picture of what is happening over time. Clearly the Northwest, like much of the world, is experiencing a warming pattern that isn’t likely to change and, in fact, is accelerating.

“At this rate, the chance of the temperature only going up 1.3 degrees in the next century is close to zero.”

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274, philip.mote@coas.oregonstate.edu

David Rupp, 541-737-5222, David.Rupp@oregonstate.edu

John Abatzoglou, jabatzoglous@uidaho.edu, 208-885-6239

Categories: Research news

Grant will support, encourage women in academic STEM careers at OSU

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 9:17am
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A $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will be used to improve conditions for women in the academic science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has been awarded a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to improve conditions for women in the academic science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines.

The five-year ADVANCE grant will be used to help recruit, retain and promote more women in STEM and the social and behavioral sciences at OSU; provide support for women in STEM and implement policies and programs that aid in these efforts.

“The goal of the grant is to transform the institutional climate for women in the STEM fields,” said Susan Shaw, the grant’s principal investigator. “What we want is an institution where difference is welcome and the value of different perspectives and experiences is understood.”

OSU is the first institution in the state to receive an institutional transformation grant from the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program. ADVANCE began in 2001 with the goal of increasing the representation and advancement of women in STEM and developing a more diverse science and engineering workforce. Past grant recipients include the University of Washington, Michigan State University and Cornell University.

“Through ADVANCE, the National Science Foundation invests in the future of women in STEM,” said program director Beth Mitchneck. “Supporting institutional change that furthers the advancement of women faculty is a means to making the institution more receptive to talent from all backgrounds.”

Women have historically been underrepresented in the STEM fields ­in academia. In 2012, 23 percent of Oregon State’s STEM faculty, including faculty in the social and behavioral sciences, were women. Women accounted for 20.8 percent of the full professorships in those disciplines.

OSU leaders have taken significant steps to enhance diversity on campus in recent years, and the ADVANCE grant is designed to further the university’s goals, Shaw said.

“A lot of the previous ADVANCE grants have tended to look at women as one group,” said Shaw, who is director of the School of Language, Culture and Society and a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies in the College of Liberal Arts.

“We’re looking at women across differences – race, sexual identity, social, class,” she said. “Those intersections are critically important to understanding women’s professional experiences and challenges.”

A new version of the university’s Difference, Power and Discrimination faculty development program will be crafted to focus on STEM issues. The program includes a summer seminar for STEM faculty and administrators on theories about systems of oppression and the impacts gender, race and class may have on how people participate in an institution, Shaw said.

The first steps to implementing the grant are hiring a program manager and establishing a website for the project. The first faculty seminars are expected next summer, she said.

Shaw and several co-investigators, including faculty in the sciences and social sciences, also will research how OSU’s ADVANCE program is working. They will present findings at conferences, share best practices with other institutions and develop an online journal about program activities, Shaw said.

The co-investigators are Rebecca Warner, senior vice provost for academic affairs; Michelle Bothwell, associate professor of bioengineering in the College of Engineering; Sarina Saturn, assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts; and Tuba Ozkan-Haller, professor of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences and professor of civil and construction engineering.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Michelle Klampe Source: 

Susan Shaw, 541-737-3082, sshaw@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

Grant to improve STEM success among underrepresented students

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 3:21pm
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A new $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help OSU increase retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students in STEM fields.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to improve the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM fields.

The program will benefit underrepresented minorities, women, and economically disadvantaged individuals, and help address a growing national need for workers trained in STEM disciplines.

Targeted at students in the colleges of science, engineering, and agricultural sciences, the OSU program will use methods proven to increase STEM success, such as small, cohort-based orientation courses; mentoring by student peers; and workshops given by upper-class STEM students.

Faculty-directed undergraduate research in the freshman and early sophomore years, and the immediate post-transfer year for community college students, will also help provide students with enriching experiences that increase learning and provide economic support to help disadvantaged students remain in school.

The program is designed to benefit 276 student participants over its five-year span, and will be evaluated and communicated to other universities, for them to benefit by replicating its successes.

“This should also help build a structure, design and institutional culture of support for STEM students that will be retained long after the funding has ended,” said Kevin Ahern, principal investigator on the grant and a leader in university efforts to get more undergraduate students involved in experiential learning.

Generic OSU Source: 

Kevin Ahern, 541-737-2305

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Student research

Categories: Research news

Intricate algae produce low-cost biosensors

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 2:59pm
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OSU engineers are using diatoms, a type of single-celled algae, as a building block to create new types of biosensors.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University researchers are combining diatoms, a type of single-celled photosynthetic algae, with nanoparticles to create a sensor capable of detecting miniscule amounts of protein or other biomarkers.

This is a new and innovative approach to optical biosensors, which are important in health care for such applications as detecting levels of blood glucose or the presence of antibodies. They are also used for chemical detection in environmental protection.

Existing biosensors often require high-cost fabrication using artificial photonic crystals to make a precisely structured device. But diatoms appear to have just the right kind of intricate structure to integrate with gold or silver nanoparticles and produce a low-cost optical biosensor.

 “I've been working on this kind of sensor for a long time, and using diatoms instead of fabricating photonic crystals makes life much easier,” said Alan Wang, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the OSU College of Engineering. “And from a commercial point of view it's much lower cost, about 50 cents compared to $50.”

Jeremy Campbell, a graduate student in chemical engineering working with OSU professor Greg Rorrer, brought the diatom to Wang’s attention. This launched a collaboration sponsored by the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and Marine Polymer Technologies.

Although diatoms are being studied by other groups for applications such as batteries, no one else is researching their use for optical biosensors. Producing a low-cost sensor is important for a consumable product that is thrown away after one use.

Research has shown that using diatoms boosts the performance of the nanoparticles by increasing the absolute value of the signal by 10 times, and the sensitivity by 100 times. The current sensitivity of the OSU biosensor is 1 picogram per milliliter, which is much better than optical sensors used in clinics for detecting glucose, proteins and DNA, which have a sensitivity of 1 nanogram per milliliter.

“Combining naturally created structures with chemically synthesized nanoparticles has the potential to revolutionize the fabrication of photonic devices,” Wang said.

College of Engineering Media Contact: 

By Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

Source: 

Alan Wang

Categories: Research news

Fungi that changed the world featured at Corvallis Science Pub

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 12:51pm
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If you eat bread, drink beer or take antibiotics, thank the fungi that make these things possible. At the Sept. 8 Corvallis Science Pub, Joey Spatafora, a leading fungal biologist, will share the often-bizarre tales of this kingdom of life and reveal how human civilization would be so much poorer without it.

If you eat bread, drink beer or take antibiotics, thank the fungi that make these things possible. At the Sept. 8 Corvallis Science Pub, Joey Spatafora, a leading fungal biologist, will share the often-bizarre tales of this kingdom of life and reveal how human civilization would be so much poorer without it.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 SW 2nd St. in Corvallis.

“Without fungi, human life would be very different — no beer or cheese; no penicillin or cyclosporin antibiotics,” said Spatafora, professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University. “Our forests would be far less resilient and productive. And we’d be swimming in every manner of waste product.”

Spatafora specializes in fungal evolution and leads an international effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to sequence the genomes for 1,000 fungal species. He also led a 10-year study called Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life. Out of the estimated 1.5 million species of fungi, scientists have described only about 100,000.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

 

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Nick Houtman Source: 

Joey Spatafora, 541-737-5304

Categories: Research news

Businesses and government agencies increase Oregon State research funding in 2014

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 12:44pm
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Oregon State University’s growing research enterprise achieved its second highest level of funding support ever, in the fiscal year that ended June 30 – $285 million in total grants and contracts to support work in public health, the environment, advanced engineering and projects to help develop Oregon’s and the nation’s economy.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University’s growing research enterprise achieved its second highest level of funding support ever, in the fiscal year that ended June 30 – $285 million in total grants and contracts to support work in public health, the environment, advanced engineering and projects to help develop Oregon’s and the nation’s economy.

In 2010 OSU received $288 million, a total boosted by a $36 million shot-in-the-arm from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). “If you take that one-time funding out of the picture, this past year was our best,” said Ron Adams, interim vice president for research at Oregon State.

“The success of our researchers in competing for grants shows we have a portfolio that is broad and deep,” Adams added. “We have support from more than two dozen state and federal agencies. And on the strength of that work, we continue to attract investment by business, industry and private foundations.”

In the past year, private-sector funding reached a record $37 million, a 50 percent increase over 2010.

Business payments to Oregon State to license patented technologies for product development reached nearly $6 million, more than double what the university received in 2010. OSU patents for transparent transistors, wheat varieties and formaldehyde-free adhesives generated most of that income, said Brian Wall, director of OSU Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development.

Through the Oregon State University Advantage, OSU continues to spin off new companies and to partner with existing ones. During the past year, 19 university and community clients have advanced toward launching new companies. They include:

  • Beet, developer of a thin-film solar cell that aims to increase energy efficiency and accelerate the adoption of solar electricity;
  • MuTherm, which is advancing a microscale combustion and heat exchanger system for heating air, water and other fluids;
  • Waste2Watergy, a company focused on microbial fuel cells to generate electricity and treat wastewater;
  • OnBoard Dynamics, whose goal is to commercialize an at-home natural-gas vehicle fueling system being developed at OSU-Cascades in Bend.

The OSU Advantage Accelerator is a component of the Oregon Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or Oregon RAIN. With support from the Oregon Legislature, collaborators include OSU, the University of Oregon, the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Corvallis and Albany and economic development organizations.

At any one time, OSU researchers are conducting more than 1,400 active research projects on topics such as aging, robotics, materials, pharmaceuticals, computer software, salmon recovery, climate, education and health risks from pollutants. They are developing new crop varieties, investigating the use of unmanned aerial systems in agriculture and forest management, improving the understanding of ocean productivity and studying new materials for energy storage.

In 2014, work continued on the design of a new ocean-going research vessel with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). OSU leads this project, estimated to reach $360 million if NSF opts to build three new ships over the next 10 years.

Research funding totaling about $171 million was obtained from more than a dozen federal agencies, with the NSF and the Departments of Energy and Agriculture being the most significant contributors. That was an 11 percent increase over federal funds received in 2013.

Private foundations also provided significant support. The Keck Foundation approved a $1 million grant to OSU to study materials that can change shape when exposed to light and may lead to novel ways to store hydrogen and capture carbon-dioxide. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation provided $1 million for PISCO, the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, for work on climate change and West Coast marine ecosystems.

Technologies developed at OSU continue to make an impact on global markets and the local economy. Transparent transistors developed in the past decade are a critical component in virtually all flat-panel display screens. NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy development company, is expanding its workforce in response to a $217 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Nick Houtman Source: 

Ron Adams, Vice President for Research, 541-737-7722

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Malwina Gradecka, Ph.D. student from the Warsaw University of Technology

Siva Kolluri, associate professor and cancer researcher, Environmental and Molecular Toxicology

Jonathan Hurst, assistant professor of robotics

Categories: Research news

OSU construction will impact game day traffic

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 4:20pm
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Oregon State University opens its football season this Saturday, Aug. 30, with a 1 p.m. game against Portland State in Reser Stadium and OSU officials are urging Beaver fans to budget extra time for traffic and parking because of continuing construction on campus.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University opens its football season this Saturday, Aug. 30, with a 1 p.m. game against Portland State in Reser Stadium and OSU officials are urging Beaver fans to budget extra time for traffic and parking because of continuing construction on campus.

Normal traffic patterns have been altered and some parking areas are no longer accessible.

“Due to the current construction and need for re-routing traffic, there could be delays as officers from Corvallis Police Department, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police safely facilitate traffic flow,” said Lt. Teresa Bloom, Oregon State Police station commander at OSU.

“As we move into the football season, I know fans are excited and we ask for assistance in making this a fun and safe season for all,” Bloom added.

The biggest traffic obstruction is the closure of 15th Street from Jefferson Avenue on the north end to Western Boulevard on the south end. This limits access to several parking lots on the east side of campus. Access to the parking lots south of Callahan and McNary Halls is now only available off 11th Street. Within that parking area, construction of the new residence building, William Tebeau Hall, is in the final stages, blocking access to parts of 13th and 14th Streets around the building.

For the Aug. 30 game, there will be a temporary crosswalk established at Washington Avenue to allow pedestrians to cross 15th through the Facilities Shops area toward Reser Stadium.  This temporary crosswalk will only be in-place for the game.

Officials are hopeful that 15th Street will reopen Sept. 19, before the next home game. The official reopening date is set for Oct. 1.

Another temporary change involves parking around Kerr Administration building, which is only available via S.W. Benton Place, to the west of Kerr, or Washington Way, which can only be accessed from the west (it will continue to be blocked off at 15th Street).

East-west traffic going through campus is also affected as Jefferson Way is closed from Waldo Place to 26th Street. OSU officials hope that Jefferson will reopen before the Sept. 20 home game.

Additionally, off campus construction by private companies along the borders of campus – including a major new housing development off 35th Street – could also impact traffic flow. Road work on 35th Street is scheduled to be completed before Sept. 15.

 

Generic OSU Media Contact:  Theresa Hogue Source: 

Steve Clark, 503-502-8217

Categories: Research news

New degrees place OSU at forefront of robotics research and education

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 3:00pm
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New master's and doctoral degrees in robotics will make OSU one of the national leaders in this growing field of study.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University this fall will begin both a master’s and doctoral degree program in robotics, one of only a few universities in the nation to offer such graduate level programs, and a recognition of the changing face of global industry.

OSU has rapidly expanded its robotics faculty, research programs and course offerings in recent years, making the new degrees possible. But this is also a reflection of the changing nature of traditional job roles in American industry and the enormous new educational opportunities it opens for students.

“With robotics, we’re in the middle of something analogous to the Industrial Revolution,” said Jonathan Hurst, an OSU associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of its Dynamic Robotics Laboratory. “The introduction of robots to our lives and the workplace will continue to present both challenges and opportunities, just like the growth of the Internet did.

“But it also creates a huge demand for people with the education and training to build, create, repair and operate those robots,” he added.

Recent advances in robotics now extend them far beyond the factory floor, and robots are poised to significantly enhance human society, OSU experts say.

“We’re talking about driverless cars, improved care for the elderly and disabled, robotic surgery, and robotic limbs,” said Kagan Tumer, an OSU professor of mechanical engineering. “The impact of robotics is extending beyond factories and labs, into the everyday lives of ordinary citizens, and we envision OSU graduates as becoming leaders of these changes.”

Students with both an interest and ability in this emerging field of engineering should easily find employment, university officials say.

"OSU students with robotics training are already being hired into the jobs of their choice, with a 100 per cent hiring rate,” Hurst said. “We hope and expect that the new graduate program will only enhance and extend that record."  

As part of the growth of the program at OSU, the robotics faculty will be moving into and plan a significant renovation of Graf Hall, Hurst said. There are now about 10 “dedicated robotics” faculty at OSU, and more than 30 other faculty from related disciplines who will participate in the new degree offerings. Robotics provides a new platform for collaboration among successful OSU programs in mechanical engineering, artificial intelligence and oceanography, among others.

More information about the robotics and autonomous systems research program at OSU is available online, at http://bit.ly/1nFgl6o

The new graduate degrees will also facilitate expansion of scientific research in robotics, a field that’s still in its infancy. OSU research programs are already active in autonomous robots, multi-robot coordination, legged locomotion, human-robot interactions, robotic prosthetics, and other fields.

College of Engineering Media Contact:  David Stauth Source: 

Jonathan Hurst, 541-737-7010

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Jonathan Hurst

Categories: Research news

Study provides new look at ancient coastline, pathway for early Americans

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 7:57am
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The Northwest coast looked vastly different 14,000 years ago from what scientists previously thought, and the exposed land mass may have allowed the First Americans to enter the region.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The first humans who ventured into North America crossed a land bridge from Asia that is now submerged beneath the Bering Sea, and then may have traveled down the West Coast to occupy sites in Oregon and elsewhere as long as 14,000 to 15,000 years ago.

Now a new study has found that the West Coast of North America may have looked vastly different than scientists previously thought, which has implications for understanding how these early Americans made this trek.

The key to this new look at the West Coast landscape is a fresh approach to the region’s sea level history over the last several thousand years. Following the peak of the last ice age about 21,000 years ago, the large continental ice sheets began to retreat, causing sea levels to rise by an average of about 430 feet. When the ice was prominent and sea levels were lower, large expanses of the continental shelf that today are submerged were then exposed.

As the melting progressed and sea levels rose, likely archaeological sites along the coast were submerged.

Most past models have assumed that as the massive North American ice sheets melted, global sea levels rose in concert – a phenomenon known as “the bathtub model.” But the authors of this new study, which was just published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, say sea level rise does not happen uniformly.

“During the last deglaciation, sea level rise was significantly influenced by the weight of the large ice sheets, which depressed the land under and near the ice sheets,” said Jorie Clark, a courtesy professor at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “As the ice sheets melted, this land began to rise. At the same time, the weight of the water melting from the ice sheets and returning to the oceans also depressed the ocean basins.

“This exchange of mass between ice sheets and oceans led to significant differences in sea level at any given location from the assumption of a uniform change,” she added.

The implications of this new approach are significant. The researchers ran models of what the sea level may have looked like over the last 20,000 years – based on knowledge of ice sheet dimensions and the topography of the ocean floor – and concluded that parts of the West Coast looked radically different than previous reconstructions based on a model of uniform sea level rise.

The central Oregon shelf, for example, was thought to be characterized by a series of small islands some 14,000 years ago. However, the models run by Clark and her colleagues suggest that much of the continental shelf was exposed as a solid land mass, creating an extensive coastline. In some areas, the change in estimated sea level may have been as much as 100 feet.

 “There has been new evidence that the peopling of the Americas happened earlier than was long thought to be the case, which has put a lot of focus on coastal paleogeography,” said Clark, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “This new look at sea level changes helps explain how that earlier introduction into the Americas could be possible.”

 “It is also important for predicting where coastal villages that are now submerged on the continental shelf may be located.”

 Other authors on the study were Jerry Mitrovica of Harvard University, and Jay Alder of the U.S. Geological Survey.

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Jorie Clark, 541-737-1575; clarkjc@geo.oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

OSU researchers tagging whales off southern California

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 4:59pm
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OSU researchers are tagging blue and fin whales off southern California as a follow-up to their landmark 15-year analysis on blue whale distribution published last month.

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers are tagging blue and fin whales off the coast of southern California this summer to study their movements, some of which include preferred feeding grounds near areas of heavy ship traffic.

The project, which is being funded by the U.S. Navy, will build on a previous study by OSU researchers that documented the seasonal distribution of blue whales, including their appearance near established shipping lanes off Santa Barbara. That analysis was based on satellite tracking of 171 blue whales for up to 13 months during a 15-year stretch from 1993 to 2008.

It was published last month in the journal PLOS ONE. Since that publication, six major shipping companies voluntarily agreed to slow their ships near Santa Barbara to lessen the chance of striking endangered blue whales, and to reduce pollution.

“No one wants to see whales hit by ships, and it is clear from the analysis that there has been some historic overlap of blue whale feeding areas and shipping lanes,” said Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, which is conducting the tagging project. “The goal of the new Navy-funded project is to better understand the seasonal occurrence of blue and fin whales in southern California and determine if that overlap is still taking place for these protected species.”

An OSU team led by Ladd Irvine began tagging the whales last month and thus far has successfully deployed 21 tags. The researchers hope to attach 24 long-term satellite tracking tags – a dozen each for blue whales and fin whales – and another eight more sophisticated tags that will track the whales’ underwater feeding habits. They hope to attach four of these Advanced-Dive-Behavior tags on blue whales and four on fin whales.

OSU’s recently published 15-year analysis was the most comprehensive study of blue whales movements ever conducted. It tracked the movement of blue whales off the West Coast to identify important habitat areas and environmental correlates, and subsequently to understand the timing of their presence near major ports and shipping traffic.

“The main areas that attract blue whales are highly productive, strong upwelling zones that produce large amounts of krill – which is pretty much all that they eat,” said Irvine, who was lead author on the PLOS ONE study. “The whales have to maximize their food intake during the summer before they migrate south for the winter, typically starting in mid-October to mid-November. It appears that two of their main foraging areas are coincidentally crossed by shipping lanes.”

An estimated 2,500 of the world’s 10,000 blue whales spend time in the waters off the West Coast of the Americas and are known as the eastern North Pacific population. Blue whales can grow to the length of a basketball court, weigh as much as 25 large elephants combined, and their mouths could hold 100 people, though their diet is primarily krill – tiny shrimp-like creatures less than two inches in length.

At a distance, fin whales look a lot like blue whales. They are the second largest of the whales and reach 75 feet in length – the size of two buses. The tall, columnar blows of fin whales look much like that of blue whales. Fin whales have a taller, sickle-shaped dorsal fin, a lower right lip that is white, and feed on schooling fish as well as krill.

Hatfield Marine Science Center Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202; bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

Science study: Sunlight, not microbes, key to CO2 in Arctic

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 11:06am
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A new study published in Science concludes that sunlight, not bacteria, is the key to converting organic carbon stored in Arctic tundra into carbon dioxide.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted to carbon dioxide (CO2) after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial activity.

However, a new study – funded by the National Science Foundation and published this week in the journal Science – concludes that sunlight and not bacteria is the key to triggering the production of CO2 from material released by Arctic soils.

The finding is particularly important, scientists say, because climate change could affect when and how permafrost is thawed, which begins the process of converting the organic carbon into CO2.

“Arctic permafrost contains about half of all the organic carbon trapped in soil on the entire Earth – and equals an amount twice of that in the atmosphere,” said Byron Crump, an Oregon State University microbial ecologist and co-author on the Science study. “This represents a major change in thinking about how the carbon cycle works in the Arctic.”

Converting soil carbon to carbon dioxide is a two-step process, notes Rose Cory, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, and lead author on the study. First, the permafrost soil has to thaw and then bacteria must turn the carbon into greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide or methane. While much of this conversion process takes place in the soil, a large amount of carbon is washed out of the soils and into rivers and lakes, she said.

“It turns out, that in Arctic rivers and lakes, sunlight is faster than bacteria at turning organic carbon into CO2,” Cory said. “This new understanding is really critical because if we want to get the right answer about how the warming Arctic may feedback to influence the rest of the world, we have to understand the controls on carbon cycling.

“In other words, if we only consider what the bacteria are doing, we’ll get the wrong answer about how much CO2 may eventually be released from Arctic soils,” Cory added.

The research team measured the speed at which both bacteria and sunlight converted dissolved organic carbon into carbon dioxide in all types of rivers and lakes in the Alaskan Arctic, from glacial-fed rivers draining the Brooks Range to tannin-stained lakes on the coastal plain. Measuring these processes is important, the scientists noted, because bacteria types and activities are variable and the amount of sunlight that reaches the carbon sources can differ by body of water.

In virtually all of the freshwater systems they measured, however, sunlight was always faster than bacteria at converting the organic carbon into CO2.

“This is because most of the fresh water in the Arctic is shallow, meaning sunlight can reach the bottom of any river – and most lakes – so that no dissolved organic carbon is kept in the dark,” said Crump, an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Also, there is little shading of rivers and lakes in the Arctic because there are no trees.”

Another factor limiting the microbial contribution is that bacteria grow more slowly in these cold, nutrient-rich waters.

“Light, therefore, can have a tremendous effect on organic matter,” University of Michigan’s Cory pointed out.

The source of all of this organic carbon is primarily tundra plants – and it has been building up for hundreds of thousands of years, but doesn’t completely break down immediately because of the Arctic’s cold temperatures. Once the plant material gets deep enough into the soil, the degradation stops and it becomes preserved, much like peat.

“The level of thawing only gets to be a foot deep or so, even in the summer,” Crump said. “Right now, the thaw begins not long before the summer solstice. If the seasons begin to shift with climate change – and the thaw begins earlier, exposing the organic carbon from permafrost to more sunlight – it could potentially trigger the release of more CO2.”

The science community has not yet been able to accurately calculate how much organic carbon from the permafrost is being converted into CO2, and thus it will be difficult to monitor potential changes because of climate change, they acknowledge.

“We have to assume that as more material thaws and enters Arctic lakes and rivers, more will be converted to CO2,” Crump said. “The challenge is how to quantify that.”

Some of the data for the study was made available through the National Science Foundation’s Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research project, which has operated in the Arctic for nearly 30 years.

Other authors on the study are Collin Ward and George Kling of the University of Michigan.

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Byron Crump, 541-737-4369; bcrump@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Rose Cory, 734-615-3199, rmcory@umich.edu

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Byron Crump, OSU

 


Rose Cory, Michigan

Categories: Research news

OSU sociologist: Policy will determine economic impact of legal marijuana

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 1:43pm
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The economic impact of legalizing marijuana in Oregon is difficult to estimate because the potential market will depend in large part on policy decisions, according to sociologist Seth Crawford.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The economic impact of legalizing marijuana in Oregon is difficult to estimate because the potential market will depend in large part on what kind of policies would be adopted if a proposed ballot measure passes in November, according to an Oregon State University sociologist who studies the issue.

“Marijuana is already a serious economic force in Oregon,” said Seth Crawford, an expert on the policies and market structure of marijuana in Oregon. “When you consider the proposed excise tax and additional revenue from income taxes, it could become a sizeable income stream for the state.”

Oregon voters will decide in November whether to legalize recreational marijuana production and use. Policymakers are trying to determine the economic impact of legalizing marijuana and Crawford’s research was recently cited in an economic report commissioned by backers of the ballot initiative, as well as by the state legislative revenue office.

If marijuana is legalized in Oregon, the state could net anywhere from $35 million to $105 million in new tax revenue per year, Crawford estimated in research published earlier this year in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relations.

Any additional expenses generated from legalizing marijuana would be small in comparison to money generated from the taxes, Crawford believes. Police and court expenses would be lower if marijuana use was legalized, he pointed out.

“From a purely economic standpoint, it’s a net win for the state’s budget,” he said. “There are still going to be enforcement issues, but the costs are likely to be lower than what is spent on enforcement now.”

The economic effect of legalizing marijuana will be determined in part by how much of the existing black market moves into the new legal market and by how much marijuana producers will be allowed to grow, Crawford said. Under the proposed ballot measure, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission would determine how marijuana would be legally sold and distributed.

“We won’t know what’s going to happen until those policies are settled, though the conversations have already begun in earnest,” said Crawford, an instructor in the School of Public Policy in the College of Liberal Arts.

Crawford also serves on the state’s Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana, which advises the director of the Oregon Department of Human Services on administrative aspects of the state’s medical marijuana program. He has provided expert testimony on marijuana-related policies in Oregon.

Crawford specializes in analyzing social networks and began studying the underlying structure of marijuana production and user networks as a doctoral student several years ago because there was no available data on Oregon producers or users.

In his study of Oregon’s informal marijuana economy, Crawford surveyed Oregon residents 18 and older to collect information about marijuana use and sales patterns. He found that the average marijuana user pays about $177 per ounce of the drug and uses about 6.75 ounces per year.

Marijuana producers generally sell small amounts, earning less than $10,000 per year; they generally are educated and employed in other legitimate occupations, Crawford found. His research also indicated that many marijuana producers in the current black market live in economically depressed regions of the state, particularly in southern Oregon, and use marijuana sales to augment low incomes.

“It’s these small producers who have the most to lose in the policy development process,” Crawford said. “If they’re unable to participate in the legal market, marijuana legalization could result in increased economic inequality, particularly in traditional areas of production like southern Oregon.”

Setting a high tax rate or imposing hefty capital requirements could serve as barriers for current small-scale marijuana producers to enter the legal market, Crawford said. In Washington state, the requirements to obtain a permit were so stringent that many were shut out of the market, he said.

Also, Washington’s taxes and early supply woes put marijuana between $420 and $840 per ounce, while in Colorado, marijuana is slightly more than $260 per ounce after taxes. At rates that high, there is a strong chance users won’t actually enter the legal market; they’ll continue making small-scale purchases from friends or acquaintances or grow their own, Crawford said.

“We don’t know if people will go to retail stores,” he said. “If the ballot initiative passes, the market will be shaped by policies adopted by the OLCC.”

College of Liberal Arts Media Contact:  Michelle Klampe Source: 

Seth Crawford, 541-760-5419, seth.crawford@oregonstate.edu

Categories: Research news

OSU research helps Chinese crested terns make comeback

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 1:10pm
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Researchers established a new breeding colony for one of the world’s most endangered seabirds  – the Chinese crested tern – which had a global population of fewer than 50 birds.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A collaborative project between researchers in Oregon and Asia last year helped establish a new breeding colony for one of the world’s most endangered seabirds – the Chinese crested tern – which then had a global population estimated at fewer than 50 birds.

This summer, at least 43 of the critically endangered birds arrived at the colony on the island of Tiedun Dao in Zhejiang Province, forming at least 20 breeding pairs. By early August, 13 young birds had fledged.

“It is a remarkable success story,” said Dan Roby, a professor of wildlife ecology at Oregon State University, who helped establish the new breeding colony. “The lessons that we learned in Oregon through luring Caspian terns to new breeding colonies away from the Columbia River translated quite well to the Chinese crested terns.”

Once thought to be extinct, there were no recorded sightings of Chinese crested terns from the 1930s until 2000, when a few birds were rediscovered on the Matsu Islands. Until last year, there were only two known breeding colonies for this species of tern – both in island archipelagos close to China’s southeast coast.

Both of these colonies have been susceptible to illegal egg collection for food, as well as to typhoons that can devastate seabird breeding colonies, Roby pointed out. The effort to establish a new colony was the first step toward creating a network of island sanctuaries where Chinese crested terns and other seabird species of conservation concern could raise their young, he added.

To establish a new colony, a project team including students and faculty from OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife worked with colleagues in China to clear part of Tiedun Dao of brush, then planted 300 tern decoys on the island and used solar-powered recorders to broadcast vocalizations of both Chinese crested terns and greater crested terns, which are more numerous and not endangered.

“When greater crested terns establish a breeding colony, sometimes it lures in Chinese crested terns as well,” Roby said. “We just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.”

The China project was designed to recapture the success that Roby and the Army Corps of Engineers had in establishing new breeding colonies in Oregon for Caspian terns far away from the Columbia River, where they had been decimating juvenile salmon migrating downstream. They established new colonies in southeast Oregon and successfully lured thousands of birds to the new sites.

The technique of clearing vegetation, planting decoys and luring birds through playback of vocalizations was developed by Stephen Kress of the National Audubon Society.

Even though the new breeding colony for Chinese crested terns was successful, it wasn’t without peril, according to Simba Chan, senior conservation officer of BirdLife International’s Asia Division, who stayed on Tiedun Dao from early May to early August to monitor the colony. During that time, the endangered birds and their chicks endured attempted predation by peregrine falcons, attempted poaching by an egg collector, and three typhoons.

Chan and his colleagues collected a lot of data about the birds’ behavior that will help inform the management of the birds as well as the design of future colonies.

Chinese crested terns are highly efficient at finding and catching forage fish and adept at defending their nest sites during territorial disputes with their neighbors. Crested terns breed in very dense colonies with six to seven nesting pairs per square meter. The decline and near-extinction of Chinese crested terns in the 20th century was likely due to their restricted breeding range and widespread overharvest of seabird eggs.

“Having a new, productive breeding site away from the other two known colonies gives the species a far better chance to recover,” Roby said.

The project was supported by numerous international groups.

College of Agricultural Sciences Media Contact:  Mark Floyd Source: 

Dan Roby, 541-737-1955; Daniel.roby@oregonstate.edu

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