Oregon State University

National Aeronautics and Space Administration Makes an Impact

Oregon State University researchers are successfully using support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to enhance knowledge, education, innovation, economic vitality, and stewardship of Earth.

NASA support for OSU research from Fiscal Years 2008 - 2012 totaled over $28 million, with almost $6 million in FY12 alone.  more data

Here are examples of NASA funds making a difference

Coastal Imaging

The Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) is the first space-borne sensor created specifically for
observing the coastal ocean, allowing scientists to better analyze human impacts and the effects of climate change
on coastal regions. With support from NASA and the Office of Naval Research, Curtiss Davis of Oregon State’s
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS) helped develop the prototype spectral imager. Aboard the International Space Station, HICO demonstrates a new set of imaging tools to monitor events from oil spills to
plankton blooms. The data is available to scientists around the world through an online clearinghouse at Oregon State.


Ocean and Wind Dynamics

NASA-funded scatterometry research by Dudley Chelton of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences,  a recipient of the NASA Public Service Medal,  has shown that sea surface temperature exerts a strong influence on winds. He is working with forecast centers to incorporate this understanding to improve regional and global predictions of weather and climate. On NASA teams, he has been active in mission design, algorithm development and applications of satellite altimetry. With NASA funding, he developed automated detection and tracking of oceanic eddies playing key roles in ocean dynamics. Application of his procedure has identified 5000+ eddies worldwide that persisted longer than a year. This dataset, on the web, is widely accessed.


Ocean Productivity

Mark Abbott, Dean of Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS), pioneered the use of satellite ocean color observations in analysis of surface ocean physical/biological coupling. On NASA’s Earth Observing System team, he was instrumental in the inclusion of spectral bands in the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) to estimate light emission by algae in the surface ocean. Collaborating with Ricardo Letelier, also of CEOAS, he developed the original algorithms to measure this chlorophyll fluorescence signal from space and to estimate the fraction of light absorbed by algae that is re-emitted as fluorescence – a potential indicator of the phytoplankton physiological state. These studies formed the basis for current analysis of MODIS and Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer ocean color data. Abbott and Letelier have maintained the Direct Broadcast station at Oregon State, providing MODIS data off North America’s west coast, a platform for NASA’s remote sensing research, direct readout software testing, education and outreach.


Phytoplankton Health

With NASA funding and satellite data, ongoing research by Michael Behrenfeld in Oregon State’s Botany and Plant Pathology department provides insights into complex ocean ecosystems. These include the first demonstration that global ocean phytoplankton changes are predominantly driven by climate forcings, and the first global views of nutrient stress in phytoplankton.  Recently, he overturned the long-standing hypotheses that annual phytoplankton blooms are due to springtime increase in light and warmth, showing instead that the blooms result from seasonal changes in predator-prey (zooplankton and phytoplankton) interactions.


Long-term Forest Trends

With NASA support, Richard Waring of Oregon State’s College of Forestry and colleagues at partnering universities have analyzed long-term forest trends in a changing climate across the Pacific Northwest. Using a variety of remote sensing techniques and developing an innovative approach to modeling species’ distributions, the researchers were able to predict where major disturbances have been documented since 2000. In places where the increase in disturbance is large, native species have the opportunity to migrate.  The research suggests that “connective corridors” be established to permit native tree species to move to more hospitable locations.


Education and Mentoring

The Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium (OSGC), part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, includes 19 affiliates across the state, of which  Oregon State University is the lead on the grant.  OSGC  provides funding support for undergraduate and graduate  students through 42 unique programs including fellowships,  scholarships, internships, student competitions, and research  projects.  94% of participants who have entered the NASA STEM  pipeline have gone on to advanced programs or related careers.


Carbon Exchange

David Turner of Oregon State’s College of Forestry is assessing the sensitivity of the net ecosystem carbon exchange over North America to climate variation and disturbance.  Sponsored by NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program, the integrated approach to characterizing the continental carbon budget is enhancing understanding of variation in carbon flux across a wide range of biomes and disturbance regimes.  Improved understanding of the carbon cycle is of policy significance in relation to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and results will contribute to periodic assessments by the North American Carbon Program.


Protection of Endangered Whales

Bruce Mate of the Marine Mammal Institute uses the ARGOS environmental receiver package on selected National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellites to provide near real-time locations of tagged endangered whales worldwide. He uses funds from NASA’s National Ocean Partnership Program to evaluate the satellite telemetry tracks and remote sensing environmental data to characterize habitat preferences for blue, fin, humpback and gray whales in the California Current System, which in turn provide a spatial decision support system to help reduce impacts from human activities. The same system is used to discover and protect breeding and calving areas to help the western North Pacific gray whale population recover, as well as to inform managers of risks from oil and gas developments.



Oregon State oceanographer Michael Freilich, current director of the Earth Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and recipient of the NASA Public Service Medal, was principal investigator for the NASA QuikSCAT mission and led the Ocean Vector Winds Science Teams for the NSCAT, QuikSCAT, and SeaWinds/ADEOS-2 missions. He contributed to instrument design and the development of the algorithms that resulted in highly accurate wind speed and direction measurements from NASA scatterometers, improving forecasts worldwide, especially for hurricane intensities. He pioneered techniques to mitigate effects of land interference, thus enabling wind speed and direction measurements close to the coasts.



NASA astronaut Donald Pettit, an alumnus of Oregon State’s College of Engineering, credits Oregon State with helping him hone the skills he later used on spaceflights, the Space Station and as a member of the STS-126 crew.  “[Oregon State] gave me a strong engineering background,” he said. “It prepared me well for graduate school, and for the real world.”


Air–Sea Interaction

CEOAS Postdoc Larry O'Neill leads a NASA Earth Science Division study of how wind changes near ocean currents - using satellite data, buoy observations, and a forecast model. The Ocean Vector Winds Science Team is answering questions such as: How prevalent and seasonal is wind change over currents? Are satellite data and model results reliable? Global weather and ocean circulation are sensitive to the surface Gulf Stream winds off the U.s. east coast and in the Southern Ocean. Results will improve understanding of the global climate system and modeling. O'Neill will next study how winds, in turn, change the ocean.


Cloud Response

Now-emeritus professor Jim Coakley years ago identified the need for studies of cloud formation and response to pollution and environmental conditions in global climate change studies.  Using imagery from NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites and with support from NASA, his research uses ships as representative polluters. Data has enhanced a general understanding of how clouds behave, and is proving helpful to climate modelers.




NASA Funding to OSU

Award Total

(FY 12)

Total  $5,708,771

Contact Info

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