OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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El Niño, Pacific Decadal Oscillation implicated in domoic acid shellfish toxicity

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers today reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a strong correlation between toxic levels of domoic acid in shellfish and the warm-water ocean conditions orchestrated by two powerful forces – El Niño events and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Using a combination of time-series data spanning two decades, the scientists not only showed a clear link between domoic acid and these larger climatic phenomena, but also developed a new model to predict with some accuracy the timing of domoic acid risks in the Pacific Northwest.

The model is based on interpreting the status of the “Oceanic Niño Index” and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation – both of which are measures of climate, ocean water movement, currents and temperature. It’s designed to help coastal resource managers more effectively monitor this issue and protect public health.

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The work was primarily supported by NOAA.

Researchers also pointed out that the findings are particularly timely, given the potential for greater domoic acid outbreak occurrences as oceans continue to warm due to climate change.

Domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin produced by specific types of phytoplankton and ingested by shellfish, can cause serious health effects in humans and some other animals. In recent years, dangerous levels of these toxins have led to the repeated closure of crab and shellfish harvesting in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. The problem threatens public health, marine wildlife and can cost millions for coastal economies. Until now, its connection to larger climatic forces has been suspected, but not confirmed.

“In the natural world there are always variations, and it’s been difficult to connect a specific event to larger forces that operate over periods of years and decades,” said Angelicque White, an associate professor and research team leader in the OSU College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

“To do so, long observational time-series are crucial. With NOAA’s commitment to sponsored coastal ocean research and monitoring, along with state support for monitoring shellfish toxins, we’ve finally been able to tease out short term variability from natural climate forcing.”

Beyond problems with domoic acid levels, White said, this correlation also appears to mirror problems with green crabs, an invasive species of significant concern in the Pacific Northwest. These same warm climate phases lead to increased numbers of green crabs in Oregon waters, where they compete with native Dungeness crabs. The conditions also deliver communities of lipid-poor “copepods” – types of small crustaceans that float with currents – from the south, that are associated with reduced salmon runs.

The new study shows that oscillations to positive, or warm-favorable conditions in natural climate cycles can reduce the strength of the south-flowing California Current. This allows more movement northwards of both warmer waters and higher levels of toxic plankton, and also brings that toxic mix closer to shore where it can infiltrate shellfish.

“Part of the concern is that a large influx of the plankton that produce domoic acid can have long-term impacts,” said Morgaine McKibben, an OSU doctoral student and lead author on the study.

“For example, razor clams are filter-feeders that bioaccumulate this toxin in their muscles, so they take much longer to flush it out than other shellfish. The higher the toxin levels, the longer it takes for razor clams to be safe to eat again, perhaps up to a year after warm ocean conditions have subsided.”

Domoic acid is produced by the diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia, and enters the marine food web when toxic blooms of these micro-algae are ingested by animals such as anchovies and shellfish. Referred to as “amnesic shellfish poisoning,” human symptoms can range from gastrointestinal disturbance to seizures, memory loss or, rarely, death. It was only first identified as a public health threat in 1987, and has been monitored on the U.S. West Coast since 1991.

Domoic acid events have been linked to mass deaths of marine mammals, like sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and whales. And closures of Pacific Northwest beaches to shellfish harvests, such as those that occurred in 2003, 2015 and 2016, can result in large economic impacts to coastal towns and tourism. In 2015, domoic-acid related closures led to a decline in value of nearly $100 million for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, according to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015.

“Advance warning of when domoic acid levels are likely to exceed our public health thresholds in shellfish is extremely helpful,” said Matt Hunter, co-author of the study with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Agencies like mine can use this model to anticipate domoic acid risks and prepare for periods of more intensive monitoring and testing, helping to better inform our decisions and ensure the safety of harvested crab and shellfish.”

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Angelicque White, 541-737-6397

awhite@coas.oregonstate.edu

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New study: Weakening of North Atlantic current can be prevented by reducing carbon emissions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Continued melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet could have a significant impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a system of surface and deep ocean currents – including the Gulf Stream – in the Atlantic Ocean that keeps upper North America and Europe temperate.

A new international study incorporating a comprehensive assessment of Greenland Ice Sheet melting suggests the freshwater influx could weaken the AMOC over the next three centuries, though the impact could be offset if human-caused carbon emissions decline and global temperatures stabilize.

However, if carbon emissions continue unabated, there is a 44 percent likelihood of a collapse of the system by the year 2300, the researchers say.

The findings are being published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Previous studies and assessment reports, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have not considered the impacts on the AMOC from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, or they have looked at it simplistically,” said Andreas Schmittner, an Oregon State University climate scientist and co-author on the study.

“Our study, using eight state-of-the-science global climate models, incorporates a realistic assessment of the ice sheet melting and shows a definite weakening of the AMOC system, but one that can be partially mitigated by a decline in carbon emissions.”

The study also suggests that the freshwater influx from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet will have less of an impact on the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation than will overall global warming, rising sea surface temperatures, and intensification of the water cycle leading to more precipitation and evaporation.

“The good news is that we can still do something to lessen the impact of AMOC weakening and prevent an unlikely, but still possible collapse of the system,” said lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

“Our models predict that the ice sheet may not melt as rapidly as another recent study has suggested, but everything comes down to what will we in the United States, and people in other countries, do to lessen our carbon emissions.”

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation brings warm waters up from the tropics and transports cooler water to the south. A weakening of the system could mean that the North Atlantic would not warm as rapidly or thoroughly as it does now, affecting regional climate in North America and northern Europe.

The AMOC also is important for preserving ocean ecosystems, affecting nutrient transport.

“A weakening of the AMOC system would probably lead to more stratification of ocean waters and less biological productivity,” Schmittner said. “It may create more sea ice in the North Atlantic, which could be beneficial in some ways. At the same time, however, it would likely reduce the transport of cooler water to the south and shift rainfall patterns near the equator.”

The study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other agencies.

 

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Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

Undersea volcano may provide clues to terrestrial eruptions

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Axial Seamount, located some 300 miles off the Oregon Coast, has become one of the most intensely studied volcanoes on Earth – and it may provide clues to better understand how and when terrestrial volcanoes erupt.

Three new papers published this week detail the workings of the most active undersea volcano in the northeast Pacific Ocean, which erupted in 1998, 2011 and 2015 – the latter of which was forecast seven months in advance by researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The key to the researchers’ forecast was a gradual inflation of the seafloor created by intruding magma, noted William Chadwick, an Oregon State volcanologist and co-author on two of the three papers, which are being published in Science and Geophysical Research Letters. Chadwick also is with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

“We’re beginning to really understand how this volcano works and some of these lessons can be applied to other volcanoes in a general way,” Chadwick said. “During its eruptions, Axial’s seafloor drops suddenly by about eight feet, and then over the next several years it gradually rises back up. When it re-inflates to a certain level, the volcano is almost ready to erupt again.

“Axial inflates and deflates like a balloon, except it’s filling with magma instead of air.”

Chadwick said that following the 2015 eruption, Axial began re-inflating rapidly at first but the rate has been slowing. The volcano has regained just less than half of the eight feet of seafloor it lost during the 2015 eruption.

“Now we’ll just have to watch and see how fast it builds back up,” Chadwick said. “We’ll be trying to forecast the next eruption again, but right now it’s a little too early to tell.”

Chadwick calls Axial Seamount a “great natural laboratory” because it is close to land, has a simple structure and is frequently active, yet not a hazard to people.

“Ironically, in some ways we can learn more about how volcanoes work by studying them underwater because the seismic imaging works so much better in the oceans,” Chadwick said. “Previous surveys created the images of where the magma is and because ships can go everywhere over the volcano we get a lot more data. On land, you have to drill a hole, set off an explosion, and record it with a few scattered seismometers. It’s not nearly as effective.”

That previous seismic data helped the researchers interpret the monitoring data collected during the 2015 eruption.

The researchers also have benefited from the Ocean Observatories Initiative, a National Science Foundation-funded program to study the world’s oceans that includes the Cabled Array, a network of sensors that helped them make real-time seismicity and geodetic measurements.

The instruments recorded a growing number of tiny earthquakes that increased from fewer than 500 a day to more than 2,000. During the eruption, there were 600 earthquakes every hour, according to William Wilcock at the University of Washington.

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New study shows impact of Antarctic Ice Sheet on climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have known for decades that small changes in climate can have significant impacts on the massive Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now a new study suggests the opposite also is true. An international team of researchers has concluded that the Antarctic Ice Sheet actually plays a major role in regional and global climate variability – a discovery that may also help explain why sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere has been increasing despite the warming of the rest of the Earth.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Global climate models that look at the last several thousand years have failed to account for the amount of climate variability captured in the paleoclimate record, according to lead author Pepijn Bakker, a former post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University now with the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Studies at the University of Bremen in Germany.

The research team’s hypothesis was that climate modelers were overlooking one crucial element in the overall climate system – an aspect of the ocean, atmosphere, biosphere or ice sheets – that might affect all parts of the system.

“One thing we determined right off the bat was that virtually all of the climate models had the Antarctic Ice Sheet as a constant entity,” Bakker said. “It was a static blob of ice, just sitting there. What we discovered, however, is that the ice sheet has undergone numerous pulses of variability that have had a cascading effect on the entire climate system.”

The Antarctic Ice Sheet, in fact, has demonstrated dynamic behavior over the past 8,000 years, according to Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“There is a natural variability in the deeper part of the ocean adjacent to the Antarctic Ice Sheet – similar to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or El Niño/La Niña but on a time scale of centuries – that causes small but significant changes in temperatures,” Schmittner said. “When the ocean temperatures warm, it causes more direct melting of the ice sheet below the surface, and it increases the number of icebergs that calve off the ice sheet.”

Those two factors combine to provide an influx of fresh water into the Southern Ocean during these warm regimes, according to Peter Clark, a paleoclimatologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the study.

“The introduction of that cold, fresh water lessens the salinity and cools the surface temperatures, at the same time, stratifying the layers of water,” Clark said. “The cold, fresh water freezes more easily, creating additional sea ice despite warmer temperatures that are down hundreds of meters below the surface.”

The discovery may help explain why sea ice has expanded in the Southern Ocean despite global warming, the researchers say. The same phenomenon doesn’t occur in the Northern Hemisphere with the Greenland Ice Sheet because it is more landlocked and not subject to the same current shifts that affect the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“One message that comes out of this study is that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is very sensitive to small changes in ocean temperatures, and humans are making the Earth a lot warmer than it has been,” Bakker said.

Sediment cores from the sea floor around Antarctica contain sand grains delivered there by icebergs calving off the ice sheet. The researchers analyzed sediments from the last 8,000 years, which showed evidence that many more icebergs calved off the ice sheet in some centuries than in others. Using sophisticated computer modeling, the researchers traced the variability in iceberg calving to small changes in ocean temperatures.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers an area of more than 5 million square miles and is estimated to hold some 60 percent of all the fresh water on Earth. The east part of the ice sheet rests on a major land mass, but in West Antarctica, the ice sheet rests on bedrock that extends into the ocean at depths of more than 2,500 meters, or more than 8,000 feet, making it vulnerable to disintegration.

Scientists estimate that if the entire Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise some 200 feet.

Other authors on the study include Nicholas Golledge of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Michael Weber of the University of Bonn in Germany.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247, clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu;

Andreas Schmittner, 541-737-9952, aschmittner@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Pepijn Bakker, 004942121865435, pbakker@marum.de

Planetary scientist to speak about Mars at OSU’s Condon Lecture on Oct. 4

CORVALLIS, Ore. – John Grotzinger, a geologist, geochemist and planetary scientist from the California Institute of Technology, will speak about exploration on Mars at the 2016 Thomas Condon Lecture Tuesday, Oct. 4, at Oregon State University.

The goal of the Condon Lecture, named after a pioneer of Oregon geology, is to interpret significant scientific research for non-scientists. The lecture, "Curiosity’s Mission of Exploration at Gale Crater, Mars" is designed for a general audience.

The event begins at 7 p.m. in Austin Auditorium of LaSells Stewart Center, 875 S.W. 26th St., Corvallis. Refreshments will be served at a reception beginning at 6:15 p.m.

Grotzinger is the Fletcher Jones Professor and chair in the division of geological and planetary sciences at California Institute of Technology. He served at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as project scientist for the Mars Science Lab mission from 2006 to 2014, and directed the successful deployment of the Mars Curiosity Rover. 

Grotzinger is known for his work on Precambrian sedimentary rocks, especially from the “Snowball Earth” period. He conducts geochemical, paleontological, and geochronological research to understand the chemical development of the early oceans and atmosphere, and the environmental context of evolution. His work has taken him to many places around the world including Oman, Namibia and Siberia.

The recipient of numerous awards, Grotzinger was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2002.

While at OSU, Grotzinger also will give a more technical presentation on a related topic. His George Moore Lecture, “Modern Carbonate and Microbial Environments at Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies,” will begin at 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 3, in Gilfillan Auditorium.

The presentations are sponsored by the OSU Research Office and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

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John Dilles, 541-737-1245, dillesj@geo.oregonstate.edu

Subduction zone earthquakes off Oregon, Washington more frequent than previous estimates

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis suggests that massive earthquakes on northern sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, affecting areas of the Pacific Northwest that are more heavily populated, are somewhat more frequent than has been believed in the past.

The chance of one occurring within the next 50 years is also slightly higher than previously estimated.

The findings, published this week in the journal Marine Geology, are based on data that is far more detailed and comprehensive than anything prior to this. It used measurements from 195 core samples containing submarine landslide deposits caused by subduction zone earthquakes, instead of only about a dozen such samples in past research.

The work was done by researchers from Oregon State University, Camosun College in British Columbia and Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra in Spain. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“These new results are based on much better data than has been available before, and reinforce our confidence in findings regarding the potential for major earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” said Chris Goldfinger, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, and one of the world’s leading experts on tectonic activity of this subduction zone.

“However, with more detailed data we have also changed somewhat our projections for the average recurrence interval of earthquakes on the subduction zone, especially the northern parts. The frequency, although not the intensity, of earthquakes there appears to be somewhat higher than we previously estimated.”

The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs from northern California to British Columbia, and scientists say it can be roughly divided into four segments. There have been 43 major earthquakes in the past 10,000 years on this subduction zone, sometimes on the entire zone at once and sometimes only on parts of it. When the entire zone is involved, it’s believed to be capable of producing a magnitude 9.1 earthquake.

It’s been known for some time, and still believed to be accurate, that the southern portions of the subduction zone south of Newport, Oregon, tend to rupture more frequently – an average of about every 300-380 years from Newport to Coos Bay, and 220-240 years from Coos Bay to Eureka, California.

The newest data, however, have changed the stakes for the northern sections of the zone, which could have implications for major population centers such as Portland, Tacoma, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

A section of the zone from Newport to Astoria, Oregon, was previously believed to rupture on average about every 400-500 years, and that average has now been reduced to 350 years. A section further north from Astoria to Vancouver Island was previously believed to rupture about every 500-530 years, and that average has now been reduced to 430 years.

The last major earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone – pinpointed in time because it caused a tsunami that raced all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Japan – occurred in January, 1700, more than 315 years ago.

“What this work shows is that, contrary to some previous estimates, the two middle sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone that affect most of Oregon have a frequency that’s more similar than different,” said Goldfinger, who directs the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at OSU.

Based on these findings, the chances of an earthquake in the next 50 years have also been slightly revised upwards. Of the part of the zone off central and northern Oregon, the chance of an event during that period has been changed to 15-20 percent instead of 14-17 percent. On the furthest north section of the zone off Washington and British Columbia, the chance of an event has increased to 10-17 percent from 8-14 percent.

The study also increased the frequency of the most massive earthquakes, where the entire subduction zone ruptures at once. It had previously been believed this occurred about half the time. Now, the data suggest that several partial ruptures were more complete than previously thought, and that complete ruptures occur slightly more than half the time.

“Part of what’s important is that these findings give us more confidence about what’s coming in our future,” Goldfinger said.

“We believed these earthquakes were possible when the hypothesis was first developed in the late 1980s. Now we have a great deal more certainty that the general concern about earthquakes caused by the Cascadia Subduction Zone is scientifically valid, and we also have more precise information about the earthquake frequency and behavior of the subduction zone.”

Based in part on the growing certainty about these issues, OSU has developed the Cascadia Lifelines Program, an initiative working with Pacific Northwest business and industry to help prepare for the upcoming subduction zone earthquake, mitigate damage and save lives. Many other programs are also gaining speed.

The new measurements in this research were made with cores that showed the results of massive amounts of sediments released by subsea landslides during a subduction zone earthquake – a catastrophic event beneath the sea as well as on land. New technology is helping researchers to actually simulate these underwater landslides, better understand their behavior, and more accurately identify the “turbidite” or sediment layers they leave behind.

The large amounts of additional data, researchers say, has helped refine previous work, fill holes in the data coverage, and also to rule out other possible causes of some sediment deposits, such as major storms, random landslides or small local earthquakes.

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About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: CEOAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support earth/ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to complex environmental challenges.

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Chris Goldfinger,541-737-9622

gold@coas.oregonstate.edu

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OSU announces location for new marine studies building in Newport

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray announced today that a new $50 million center for global marine studies research and education will be built at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The 100,000-square-foot facility is an integral part of OSU’s ambitious Marine Studies Initiative, designed to educate students and conduct research on marine-related issues - from rising sea levels and ocean acidification to sustainable fisheries and economic stability.

“Following broad consultation with numerous individuals and groups, as well as analysis of several separate reports, I have determined that the Hatfield Marine Science Center is the best site for Oregon State’s new Marine Studies Initiative building,” Ray said.

“Throughout the evaluation process, which included two upland sites, the safety of those who work, study and visit this building and HMSC during a potential catastrophic seismic event has been my overriding concern.”

Ray said that he believed the new facility can be built to sustain a 9.0 earthquake and an associated tsunami. He also concluded that the new building can provide a safe, accessible, vertical roof-top evacuation alternative for those who are injured, disabled or otherwise unable to reach the preferred evacuation site on nearby Safe Haven Hill.

“In my view, by locating this new building at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, life and safety prospects and services for employees, students and visitors will be much improved, relative to locating the marine studies building somewhere else,” Ray said. “The building might also serve as a safe destination for others who work at or visit nearby businesses or attractions, but who could not physically reach Safe Haven Hill.”

The new facility will be located adjacent to the Guin Library on the HMSC campus, which is just east of the Highway 101 bridge in Newport. The location places the facility in close proximity to critically important seawater laboratories and other HMSC research facilities. Although it is within the tsunami inundation zone, OSU officials say, detailed consideration went into the siting.

To assess the prospects of major catastrophic natural events, such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone event along the Oregon coast, Ray convened a committee of university academic, research and administrative leaders. They conducted comprehensive internal and independent third-party assessments of building this facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus or at alternative, higher-ground sites in Newport.

Based on its comprehensive evaluation of the alternative sites, the committee recommended that the new building be constructed at the HMSC site. Meanwhile, OSU plans to build student housing on higher ground in Newport.

OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative has set a goal by 2025 to teach 500 students annually in Newport and expand marine studies research. Oregon State officials plan to open the building as early as 2018. The Oregon Legislature approved $24.8 million in state bonding last year to help fund the new building, which will become the centerpiece of OSU’s marine studies initiative. Meanwhile, the OSU Foundation is raising an additional $40 million in private funding for the Marine Studies Initiative – $25 million to match state funds for the new building and another $15 million to support related programs.

HMSC, which is run by Oregon State, is also shared by several agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The multiple agencies, along with Hatfield’s saltwater research laboratories and ship operations, make it one of the most important marine science facilities in the country – and the combination provides unique opportunities for OSU students.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center celebrated its 50th anniversary in August 2015.

 

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808

steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

Pacific Storm operations transferred to OSU college

NEWPORT, Ore. – Operations of the 85-foot-long Oregon State University research vessel Pacific Storm have been transferred from the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU to the university’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS).

The transfer will put the university’s three major research vessels under the same unit; CEOAS also operates the 177-foot R/V Oceanus and the 54-foot R/V Elakha.

The transfer will make the Pacific Storm available for year-round cruises – weather permitting – and improve access to the sea for OSU scientists, students and collaborators across the university, said Bruce Mate, director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

“The Pacific Storm has been a great vessel for us, but it makes more sense logistically to operate all the vessels under a single unit,” Mate said. “We’ll continue to use the ‘Storm’ but this will allow many other researchers access to her.”

In the past decade, the R/V Pacific Storm has hosted 52 cruises, including one that culminated in the National Geographic documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which featured Mate’s research on the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth. The vessel has been used for a variety of whale research, as well as to deploy wave energy buoys, conduct seafloor mapping off the Oregon Coast, and deploy and recover undersea gliders.

The Pacific Storm originally was a commercial trawler that was donated to the OSU Marine Mammal Institute by Scotty and Janet Hockema, and refitted for research. The fish hold was converted into three bunk rooms, two toilets and a shower, and the vessel was outfitted with a research laboratory. Private donations paid for the refitting of the $1.5 million vessel.

The Pacific Storm will be housed and operated by OSU Ship Operations at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, said Stewart Lamerdin, OSU’s marine superintendent.

“As the university moves forward with its Marine Studies Initiative, there will be an increasing demand for access by students and scientists to research vessels,” Lamerdin said. “Managing all three vessels in a single operation will help OSU maximize their usage.”

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

Stewart Lamerdin, 541-867-0225, slamerdin@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Study finds native Olympia oysters more resilient to ocean acidification

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Native Olympia oysters, which once thrived along the Pacific Northwest coast until over-harvesting and habitat loss all but wiped them out, have a built-in resistance to ocean acidification during a key shell-building phase after spawning, according to a newly published study.

Unlike the commercially raised Pacific oysters, Olympia oysters don’t begin making their shells until 2-3 days after fertilization and make them far more slowly, which helps protect them from corrosive water during this critical development phase, said Oregon State University’s George Waldbusser, principal investigator on the project.

Pacific oysters, on the other hand, only have a six-hour window to develop their calcium carbonate shell, and when exposed to acidified water, their energy stores become depleted. The larval oysters may get through the shell-building stage, Waldbusser said, but they often will not have enough energy to survive.

Results of the study are being published this week in the Journal of Limnology and Oceanography.

“This is a unique trait that allows native oysters to survive surprisingly high levels of acidification,” said Waldbusser, a marine ecologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “But they didn’t develop that trait in response to rising acidification. It has been there for some time. It does make you wonder if there may be traits in other organisms that we’re unaware of that may be beneficial.”

In their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, the OSU researchers measured the calcification rates of both Olympia and Pacific oysters for five days after spawning, taking measurements every three hours. Although other studies have looked at the effects of acidified water on adult oysters, this is the first time researchers have been able to pinpoint its effect on larval oysters in the shell-building stage.

What they found was a seven-fold difference in the calcification rate. Pacific oysters put all of their energy into rapidly developing a shell, but the price of that investment is huge.

Native Olympia oysters developed their shells much more slowly, but seemingly at a lower cost.

“Pacific oysters churn out tens of millions of eggs, and those eggs are much smaller than those of native oysters even though they eventually become much larger as adults,” Waldbusser said. “Pacific oysters have less energy invested in each offspring. Olympia oysters have more of an initial energy investment from Mom, and can spend more time developing their shells and dealing with acidified water.”

The OSU researchers found that relative energy stores of young Pacific oysters declined by 38.6 percent an hour, and only 0.9 percent in Olympia oysters.

The study noted other interesting differences between Pacific and Olympia oysters. Native Olympia oyster larvae develop in a brood chamber, where the embryos take longer to develop. However, these brood chambers don’t necessarily protect the young oysters from acidified water, since water is continually pumped through the chamber.

To test how the oysters would do when raised like Pacific oysters – outside the chamber – the researchers conducted an experiment raising the larval Olympia oysters outside their brood chamber and exposing them to acidified water.

“Brooding was thought to provide several advantages to developing young, but we found it does not provide any physiological advantage to the larvae,” said Matthew Gray, a former doctoral student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maine. “They did just as well outside the brood chamber as inside.

“Brooding does help guard the larvae from predators and some adverse environmental changes – such as low-salinity events.”

The research highlights this robust response to ocean acidification at this critical life-history stage of Olympia oyster larvae, a period which has not previously been studied. Past studies conducted by Annaliese Hettinger, a post-doctoral researcher in Waldbusser’s lab, found that the Olympia oyster larvae are sensitive to acidification in the later swimming stage, and those effects can carry over to adult stages.

The current research may, however, have implications for the future of the commercial oyster industry, given that many of the problems seem to originate at this very early developmental stage. Cultivation of native oysters could help guard against catastrophic Pacific oyster losses due to acidification, the researchers say, or it may be possible to breed some of the Olympia oysters’ beneficial traits into Pacific oysters – either slowing the calcification rate of early larvae or producing fewer and bigger eggs.

The Olympia oyster, which is smaller than the commercially grown Pacific oyster, is prized for its distinctive flavor. Originally, Olympia oysters grew from Baja California to Vancouver Island, and are found sparingly in three Oregon bays – Yaquina, Netarts and Coos Bay. During the height of these harvests in the 1890s, some 130,000 bushels of oysters were annually shipped from the Pacific Northwest to California and within 20 years, 90 percent of these native oysters had disappeared.

Researchers speculate that the remaining Olympia oyster populations may have succumbed to increased silt generated by 20th-century logging and mill operations, which either killed them outright or covered their beds and destroyed their habitat. They have not returned in discernible numbers to Oregon estuaries.

Story By: 
Source: 

George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964

waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Olympia oyster cluster

Olympia oysters



Olympia oysters
Olympia oysters
from Yaquina Bay

“Weather@Home” offers precise new insights into climate change in the West

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Tens of thousands of “citizen scientists” have volunteered some use of their personal computer time to help researchers create one of the most detailed, high resolution simulations of weather ever done in the Western United States.

The data, obtained through a project called Weather@Home, is an important step forward for scientifically sound, societally relevant climate science, researchers say in a an article published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The analysis covered the years 1960-2009 and future projections of 2030-49.

“When you have 30,000 modern laptop computers at work, you can transcend even what a supercomputer can do,” said Philip Mote, professor and director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University, and lead author on the study.

“With this analysis we have 140,000 one-year simulations that show all of the impacts that mountains, valleys, coasts and other aspects of terrain can have on local weather,” he said. “We can drill into local areas, ask more specific questions about management implications, and understand the physical and biological climate changes in the West in a way never before possible.”

The sheer number of simulations tends to improve accuracy and reduce the uncertainty associated with this type of computer analysis, experts say. The high resolution also makes it possible to better consider the multiple climate forces at work in the West – coastal breezes, fog, cold air in valleys, sunlight being reflected off snow – and vegetation that ranges from wet, coastal rain forests to ice-covered mountains and arid scrublands within a comparatively short distance.

Although more accurate than previous simulations, improvements are still necessary, researchers say. Weather@Home tends to be too cool in a few mountain ranges and too warm in some arid plains, such as the Snake River plain and Columbia plateau, especially in summer. While other models have similar errors, Weather@Home offers the unique capability to improve simulations by improving the physics in the model.

Ultimately, this approach will help improve future predictions of regional climate. The social awareness of these issues has “matured to the point that numerous public agencies, businesses and investors are asking detailed questions about the future impacts of climate change,” the researchers wrote in their report.

This has led to a skyrocketing demand for detailed answers to specific questions – what’s the risk of a flood in a particular area, what will be future wind speeds as wind farms are developed, how should roads and bridges be built to handle extremely intense rainfall?  There will be questions about heat stress on humans, the frequency of droughts, future sea levels and the height of local storm surges.

This type of analysis, and more like it, will help answer some of those questions, researchers say.

New participants in this ongoing research are always welcome, officials said. If interested in participating, anyone can go online to “climateprediction.net” and click on “join.” They should then follow the instructions to download and install BOINC, a program that manages the tasks; create an account; and select a project. Participation in climateprediction.net is available, as well as many others.

The work has been supported by Microsoft Corp., the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the California Energy Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey and the USDA.

Collaborators on the report were from OSU, Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom.

Story By: 
Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274

pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Elevation map
Elevation map