OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Oregon State University breaks record with $441 million in research grants

CORVALLIS, Ore. –Oregon State University crossed the $400 million threshold in grants and contracts for the first time in the fiscal year that ended June 30, including being awarded a grant to build a $122 million regional research vessel.

Oregon State received $441 million from state and federal governments, businesses and foundations for research on a wide range of projects in natural resources, health, engineering and science across the state and around the world. Federal agencies provided $315 million (71 percent), and additional funds came from state agencies, businesses and foundations.

“OSU research spurs solutions to problems and serves and involves people, communities and businesses across the state and world,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU vice president for research. “Investment in research affects our daily lives —  the food we eat, health care, the environment — and pays back dividends in economic growth for Oregonians. Researchers are starting new businesses and assisting established companies.”

Altogether, Oregon State’s research revenues leapt 31 percent over last year’s record-breaking total of $336 million. Over the past 10 years, OSU’s research revenues have more than doubled and exceed those of Oregon’s public universities combined.

OSU research totals surged in June with a $122 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a new regional research vessel, which will be stationed at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. It was the largest single grant ever received by the university.

Revenues from business and industry — including technology testing, sponsored contracts and licensing of innovations developed at the university — grew to $34 million last year, up 10 percent from the previous year.

“Our latest success is the result of hard work and strategic decisions by our faculty and partners in business, local and state government and the federal delegation,” Sagers said.

Based on past OSU research, startup companies such as Agility Robotics (animal-like robot motion), Outset Medical (at-home kidney dialysis) and Inpria (photolithography for high-performance computer chips) are attracting private investment and creating jobs. Advances in agricultural crops (winter wheat, hazelnuts, small fruits and vegetables) and forest products (cross-laminated timber panels for high-rise construction) are bolstering rural economies as well.

Since it began in 2013, the Oregon State University Advantage program has provided market analysis and support services to more than 70 local technology businesses and start-up companies. 

Other major grants last year included:

  • Up to $40 million by the U.S. Department of Energy for testing systems for ocean wave energy technologies;
  • $9 million for a next-generation approach to chemical manufacturing known as RAPID, in partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory;
  • $6.5 million from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to make artificial-intelligence systems more trustworthy;
  • A combined $1.15 million in state, federal and foundation funding for a state-of-the-art instrument known as an X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy system. The XPS system brings world-class capabilities to the Pacific Northwest to address challenges in surface chemistry. Partners included the Murdock Charitable Trust, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center and the National Science Foundation.

 “Whether it’s with the fishing and seafood industries on our coast, federal labs working on energy and the environment or local governments concerned about jobs and education, partnerships with business, government and other research organizations are absolutely vital to our work,” said Sagers. “We care about these relationships, the benefits they bring to our communities and the educational opportunities they create for our students.”

Research has long been a hallmark of graduate education, and undergraduate students are increasingly participating in research projects in all fields, from the sciences to engineering, health and liberal arts. OSU provided undergraduates with more than $1 million last year to support projects conducted under the mentorship of faculty members.

“Research is fundamental to President Ray’s Student Success Initiative,” said Sagers. “Studies show time and again that students who participate in research tend to stay in school, connect with their peers and find meaningful work after they graduate. Research is a key part of the educational process.”

Federal agencies represent the lion’s share of investment in OSU research. That investment has more than doubled in the last five years. The National Science Foundation provided the largest share of funding, followed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Energy. 

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Project summaries and FY17 research totals for OSU colleges are posted online:

College of Agricultural Sciences: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/our-best/research-awards-2016-17

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/research/map/

College of Education: http://education.oregonstate.edu/research-and-outreach

College of Engineering:  http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/fy17-research-funding-highlights

College of Forestry: http://www.forestry.oregonstate.edu/college-forestry-continues-advance-research-efforts#

College of Liberal Arts: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/cla-research/2017-research-summary

College of Pharmacy: http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/grant_information

College of Public Health and Human Sciences: http://health.oregonstate.edu/research/funding-highlights 

College of Science: http://impact.oregonstate.edu/2017/08/research-funding-continues-upward-trajectory/

College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/research-highlights

Video b-roll is available with comments by Cindy Sagers, vice president of research, at https://youtu.be/pkGD-lhVTwo.

 

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Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research, cynthia.sagers@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-0664

    

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NSF grant bolsters OSU’s efforts in robotics, artificial intelligence, marine studies

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The National Science Foundation has awarded $1 million to five Oregon State University researchers to study the operation of autonomous marine vehicles.

The grant further enlarges the university’s robotics footprint three months after the OSU College of Engineering established the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute to advance the theory, design, development and deployment of robots and intelligent systems able to collaborate seamlessly with people.

It also broadens the reach of the OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative, a university-wide effort to increase understanding of coastal and ocean systems and promote sustainability on key issues including climate change, food security and safety, natural hazards, renewable energy production and natural resources management.

Geoff Hollinger and Julie A. Adams of the College of Engineering and Jack Barth, Jonathan Nash and Kipp Shearman of the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences are the principal investigators on the $1 million grant.

Hollinger, the lead PI, is a roboticist, and Adams, an associate director of the CoRIS Institute, is a computer scientist. Barth, the executive director of the Marine Studies Initiative, Nash and Shearman are physical oceanographers who specialize in making observations at sea using autonomous vehicles.

The project builds on cross-campus collaborations that bring engineers and ocean scientists together to produce innovations in OSU-developed ocean-sensing technologies such as ROSS – the robotic oceanographer surface sampler – and advanced underwater glider operations.

The project seeks to increase vehicles’ “neglect tolerance” – the ability to withstand long periods with little to no communication from a human technician – by improving their autonomy capabilities.

“Underwater exploration using unmanned robotic vehicles has opened up vast new ways of understanding the world’s oceans,” Hollinger said. “However, in the current state of practice, human operators must provide specific waypoints for the vehicles to follow, which is both time consuming and inflexible. The research in this project will develop autonomy capabilities that facilitate on-vehicle intelligence, leading to longer duration deployments of unmanned underwater and surface vehicles as well as improving the oceanographic data collected and reducing the cost of these deployments.”

The $1 million NSF grant comes on the heels of the $3.6 million the College of Engineering received in robotics-related funding in fiscal year 2017, the nearly $2 million it received the previous year and a recent $6.5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to make artificial-intelligence-based systems like autonomous vehicles and robots more trustworthy.

Media Contact: 

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

Students and researchers in Oregon first in line to capture U.S. images of eclipse

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of students from Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College will board OSU’s research vessel Pacific Storm early in the morning of Aug. 21 and venture 30 miles offshore, then launch a high-altitude balloon that will soar some 80,000 feet into the atmosphere.

There it will record and transmit some of the first images of the total solar eclipse as it traverses across the United States. The video will be part of a project by NASA and the National Space Grant program to capture images of the moon’s shadow across the country from a near-space perspective.

“It’s really a thrill to be first in line for this rare event,” said Jack Barth, who directs the Marine Studies Initiative at Oregon State University. “It is a bit of a technical and logistical challenge, but it also is a tremendous opportunities for students from OSU and Linn-Benton Community College.”

There is a method to the team’s madness in going out into the ocean to capture the images, according to Levi Willmeth, who began designing some of the instrumentation for the project as a student at LBCC before transferring to Oregon State’s College of Engineering.

“Our goal is to be right on the coastline to get video of the shadow on the water, and as it first touches down on land,” Willmeth said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

The idea for the project originated four years ago at a national meeting of Space Grant directors. Toby Dittrich, a physics professor at Portland Community College and associate director for the Oregon Space Grant Consortium, proposed developing a national collaborative effort to develop STEM research and education, centering on the 2017 solar eclipse.

At the same time, the Oregon Space Grant program – which is headquartered at Oregon State – launched an initiative to broaden its engagement with Oregon community colleges. One of those efforts was at Linn-Benton Community College, where a space science student club was formed to work on NASA-related projects in collaboration with the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

In 2016, Oregon Space Grant sponsored several community college teams to attend an eclipse-related high-altitude balloon workshop hosted by Montana Space Grant. At that point, NASA stepped in and identified the project as a key component of its Solar Eclipse programs and provided funding for hardware to launch the balloons and capture the images.

“Then corporate sponsors joined in and a commitment was made that the Space Grant eclipse video feed would be the primary story on NASA-TV the day of the eclipse,” said Jack Higginbotham, director of Oregon Space Grant. “With Oregon being the first in line, we needed a strong balloon and hardware team to give us the greatest chance of success.”

LBCC was chosen to represent Oregon Space Grant and NASA, working with students and researchers at Oregon State to capture the moment when the umbra, or moon’s shadow on the Earth’s surface, crosses the Oregon Coast near Depoe Bay and begins its transit across the U.S. 

Linn-Benton physics professor Greg Mulder proposed launching the balloon from offshore, giving the students the best chance of having their balloon be directly overhead when the eclipse first hits shore. That’s when OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences stepped in and offered the R/V Pacific Storm for the project.

Two biennia ago, the Oregon Legislature in an effort to invest in local marine-related research and support local vessels, provided funding to purchase 12 days at sea aboard the R/V Oceanus operated by Oregon State. With the Oceanus in Alaska in August, Barth said, the college decided to use a portion of the funds to use the Pacific Storm – a former fishing boat retrofitted for research – for the eclipse project.

“We’re excited to have the state-supported ship time to help the LBCC and OSU students carry out this exciting project,” Barth said. “That legislative appropriation continues to pay dividends, allowing a variety of research to take place offshore and providing opportunities to a variety of Oregon students.

“Since the funding began, we’ve received $300,000 a year and leveraged more than $5 million in federal funding for research.”

Higginbotham said the launch team has made several trial runs and is almost ready for the Aug. 21 eclipse. Several other Oregon community colleges are involved, he noted, including students from Oregon Coast Community College and Southwest Oregon Community College, who will provide shore-based logistical support.

“We’re hoping the LBCC balloon lands on shore and the students from those two community colleges can recover it,” Higginbotham said. “If so, we will offer the balloon and payload as artifacts for display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, where many of the students got their start on the project.”

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By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

and Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

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Sources: Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu; Jack Higginbotham, 541-737-9949, jack.higginbotham@oregonstate.edu

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OSU to host 20th annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl April 20-23

CORVALLIS, Ore. – High school teams from around the country will compete April 20-23 at Oregon State University in the finals of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, an academic quiz-bowl style competition focusing on knowledge of issues relating to the world’s oceans. 

Competitors are the winning teams from 25 regional bowls held in February and include the first-place finishers at OSU’s regional contest, the Salmon Bowl. The winner of that bowl, hosted by the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, is Rockaway Beach’s Neah-Kah-Nie High School. A full list of competing teams is available here: http://bit.ly/2pBj5Kb.

This national competition, sponsored by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership based in Washington, D.C., is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. 

Students will be quizzed on their knowledge of ocean science and related issues, including a diverse range of scientific disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology, technology and policy. The theme for this year’s Finals is “Blue Energy: Powering the Planet with our Ocean.”

Designed to test students’ knowledge and encourage careers in ocean sciences, this year’s competition will cover basic ocean science questions such as “What effect does the El Niño Southern Oscillation have on the fishing industries in the Northern Hemisphere?” and explore topics relevant to the theme. Among them:

  • Technologies used to harness energy from waves, tides, currents, wind and other sources;
  • Challenges to implementing marine renewable energy;
  • Potential impacts of marine renewable energy on ecosystems and marine life;
  • Challenges of deploying, retrieving and maintaining ocean instruments and technologies;
  • Permits and regulatory policies;
  • Organizations and groups involved in marine renewable energy research and commercialization. 

Oregon State University is home to the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, a consortium of universities, faculty and students that conducts research and tests technologies to harness ocean power.

The 25 teams convene on the evening of Thursday, April 20, for a career mentoring event and spend Friday on eight different marine science-focused field trips to the Oregon coast ahead of the weekend’s competition. 

The welcome and competition will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday in the LInC Room 128. The event concludes with the awards ceremony from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit nosb.org.

Major sponsors include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the Office of Naval Research; Schwab Charitable Fund made possible by the generosity of Wendy and Eric Schmidt; Deerbrook Charitable Trust; Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; Shell; Eastman Foundation; Lockheed Martin; and Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. A complete list of sponsors can be found here: http://nosb.org/about-nosb/sponsors/.

 


 

About National Ocean Sciences Bowl: The National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) is a program of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership based in Washington, D.C. Now in its 20th year, the NOSB inspires students to pursue a college degree and future career in the ocean sciences. Through this educational forum, the NOSB introduces students, teachers, schools, and communities to ocean sciences as an interdisciplinary field of study and a possible career path. Most high school students do not have the opportunity to study ocean science as part of their formal coursework, which makes the NOSB one of the only ways students gain exposure to this field. Many past NOSB participants have moved on to pursue college degrees and careers in ocean science, helping to solve the growing environmental, economic and security issues facing our ocean and planet. 

About Consortium for Ocean Leadership: The Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL) is a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization that represents the leading public and private ocean research education institutions, aquaria, and industry with the mission to shape the future of ocean science and technology. In addition to its advocacy role as the voice of the ocean research and technology community, COL manages a variety of community-wide research and education programs in areas of ocean observing, ocean exploration, and ocean partnerships.

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Allison Hays, 941-962-9266, ahays@oceanleadership.org; Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339, fconway@coas.oregonstate.edu

OSU to host Marine Science Day on April 8

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 8, giving visitors an opportunity to see laboratories behind-the-scenes, interact with student scientists and learn more about current marine research.

The event is free and open to the public, and will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located in Newport southeast of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay. It will feature interactive, hands-on exhibits and opportunities to talk to researchers from OSU and other federal and state agencies.

The theme is “Celebrating Student Research” and student scientists will be among the researchers presenting exhibits on marine mammals, oyster aquaculture, ocean acidification, ocean noise, seagrass ecology, fisheries, deep sea vents and more. Visitors can learn about research diving with the OSU Dive Team, observe microscopic plankton, tour a genetics lab and hear about the NOAA Corps 100th year as a commissioned service.

Special activities for children will be offered by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The Oregon Coast STEM Hub and representatives from OSU and Oregon Coast Community College will also be available to engage K-12 students interested in pursuing marine studies.

Special events include:

  • A lecture at 2:30 p.m. by José R. Marín Jarrín, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galápagos, Ecuador, on “From Hatfield to the Charles Darwin Foundation: the importance of student research experiences.”
  • Opening celebration at 10:30 a.m. for the Experimental Seawater Facility, funded by the National Science Foundation.
  • A public feeding of the octopus Opal in the Visitors Center will be at 1 p.m.

Visitors may also learn about the progress of OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative, which seeks to host 500 students-in-residence in Newport by 2025.

“With a new teaching and research facility in the fundraising and design phase, Marine Science Day offers a great opportunity to understand why we are so excited about OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative,” said Bob Cowen, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“It is also a chance to learn about our scientists – who we are, what we do, and how we, as university, state and federal partners, work together and with communities to better understand and solve our marine and coastal challenges.”

More information on the event is available online at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday

 

Source: 

Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234

maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

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OSU names Mix, Selker as distinguished professors

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has named Alan Mix and John Selker as its 2017 Distinguished Professor recipients, the highest academic honor the university can bestow on a faculty member.

This honor will be permanent as long as the recipient remains at OSU.

“These two extraordinary scientists are helping people around the world to understand how our environment functions, now and at times in the distant past,” said Edward Feser, provost and executive vice president at OSU.

“John Selker has done groundbreaking work in environmental instrumentation, soil physics and hydrology, creating for that purpose innovative new applications in fiber optics,” Feser said. “His work to explain how water moves through soils and on surfaces relates to everything from modern agriculture to ecology, aquatic science, groundwater and the protection of our environment.

“Alan Mix has viewed the world not only as it is today, but as it used to be thousands of years ago. This helps us understand what forces were at work then and what that may mean for our future as the climate changes.  He has tied together prehistoric changes on land, sea, in ice and biota, from the tropics to the ice packs, and is one of the pioneers in studying ‘tipping points’ at which global change might accelerate.”

Selker, a professor in the Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, has published more than 115 scientific papers that have been cited thousands of times. Selker received his doctorate in hydrology from Cornell University and has been on the OSU faculty since 1991. He has received multiple career awards in his field, is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and routinely involves undergraduate OSU students in his international research and training experiences.

Selker individually created new instruments and measurement devices that have helped revolutionize the field of hydrology. He recently organized a public/private initiative to improve instrumentation of weather in Africa, which could dramatically improve African agriculture, aid the study of global climate change and help address other needs in African sustainability and economic development.

Mix, a professor in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, has generated 244 publications and more than 17,500 citations as one of the world’s leading paleoclimatologists. Findings in the geologic record about past climatic changes are a key to understanding the present, the forces now at work and what they may bring.

Mix has received more than $31 million in research funding through 89 grants, participated in 19 major global expeditions and for 20 years managed the OSU marine geology repository for sediment cores. In a male-dominated field, half of his graduate students have been women, international or underrepresented minority students.

Both professors will give public lectures on May 15 in the Horizon Room of the Memorial Union on topics in their area of research.

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Edward Feser, 541-737-0731

ed.feser@oregonstate.edu

Corliss, OSU to commemorate 40th anniversary of hydrothermal vents discovery

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Forty years ago, a group of scientists led by Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Corliss discovered a unique colony of sea creatures living in the depths of the eastern Pacific Ocean in an area known as the Galapagos Rift.

There was no obvious source of light or food, yet clams, huge tube worms and other creatures were thriving. Their energy source turned out to be life-giving hydrothermal vents and the discovery revolutionized marine studies. 

This March 2-3, Oregon State University will celebrate the discovery with two presentations featuring Corliss, who is traveling from his home in Budapest, Hungary, to participate. The two-day commemorative event, which is free and open to the public, is called “OSU and Hydrothermal Vents: 40th Anniversary of the Discovery that Launched 1,000 Ships.”

“It was one of the biggest, most important discoveries by OSU scientists,” noted Martin Fisk, an OSU oceanographer who is helping coordinate the events. “Jack Corliss was designated by the National Science Foundation, which funded the research, as the leader of the submersible Alvin exploration, which descended into the depths of the Galapagos fracture zone, where the team discovered the vents and this unique biological community.” 

Robert Collier, a professor emeritus at OSU, was a participant on that 1977 expedition. “The discovery changed oceanography and spawned new fields of study, in everything from marine biology and chemistry to new approaches on the origin of life,” he said.

On Thursday, March 2, OSU will host three short lectures from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Learning Innovation Center, Room 210. They include:

  • Corliss and Collier will discuss the history of the discovery and the new fields of study it spawned;
  • Bill Chadwick, an OSU researcher at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, will describe new discoveries of hydrothermal vents in the western Pacific Ocean;
  • OSU oceanographer Andrew Thurber will explain how life at hydrothermal vents can influence global climate. 

On Friday, March 3, Corliss and others from the expedition will hold an open forum on the discovery that will be taped to help create an archive on its history. It will be held in Burt Hall Room 193 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Participating will be Lou Gordon, co-principal investigator on the expedition; Mitch Lyle, a graduate student with the late Jack Dymond; Collier, who was a grad student with John Edmond, also a co-principal investigator; and Corliss. 

During the 1977 discovery, the expedition scientists dubbed the hydrothermal vent community “The Garden of Eden” and used the mechanical arm of the Alvin to carefully collect samples of worms, mussels, clams and anemones. Some of those samples are still housed today at the Smithsonian Institution.

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Martin Fisk, 541-737-5208, mfisk@coas.oregonstate.edu

Low snowpacks of 2014, 2015 may become increasingly common with warmer conditions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon experienced very low snowpack levels in 2014 and historically low snowpack levels in 2015; now a new study suggests that these occurrences may not be anomalous in the future and could become much more common if average temperatures warm just two degrees (Celsius).

The low snowpack levels were linked to warmer temperatures and not a lack of precipitation, the researchers say. Based on simulations of previous and predicted snowpack, the study suggests that by mid-century, years like 2015 may happen about once a decade, while snowpack levels similar to 2014 will take place every 4-5 years.

Results of the study, which was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation, have just been published the journal The Cryosphere.

“It is a cautionary tale,” said lead author Eric Sproles, who conducted much of the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University and has been working as a hydrologist in Chile. “California received a lot of attention for its drought, but the economic and environmental impacts from those two low-snowpack years were profound in the Pacific Northwest.”

“We set out to learn whether they were just off years, or if they would be likely to happen more often with increased warming. Unfortunately, the data show these will become more commonplace.”

The key, Sproles said, is what happened in the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of around 4,000 feet – a level that frequently is the boundary between rain and snow. In 2014, winter precipitation in the mountain region was 96 percent of normal and overall temperatures were 0.7 degrees (C) warmer than normal. But temperatures in that snow zone were 2.7 degrees (C) warmer than average.

The winter of 2014 led to drier springtime conditions and moderate to severe drought throughout western Oregon. That pattern was even stronger in 2015. A fair amount of precipitation still fell – 78 percent of normal – but temperatures in the snow zone were 3.3 degrees (C), or 5.9 degrees (F) warmer than average.

On March 1 of 2015, 47 percent of the snow monitoring sites in the Willamette River basin registered zero “snow water equivalent” – the amount of water stored in snowpack.

“The result was a significantly reduced stream flow in the summer, water quality concerns in the Willamette Valley, an increase in wildfires, high fish mortality and a dreadful season for ski resorts,” said Sproles, who worked with Anne Nolin and Travis Roth in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences on the project. “Hoodoo Ski Area was open for only a few weekends in 2013-14, and in 2015, they suspended operations in mid-January – the shortest season in their 77-year history.”

Detroit Reservoir in the adjacent Santiam basin had reservoir levels that were as much as 21 meters (or 68 feet) below capacity, and was plagued by high levels of harmful blue-green algae concentrations.

The study focused on the McKenzie River basin, which has a major influence on the Willamette River – all the way to Portland. In fact, during summer months nearly 25 percent of the water in the Willamette at its confluence with the Columbia River originates from the McKenzie. As much as 60 to 80 percent of the volume of the Willamette River in the summer originates from precipitation that fell above 4,000 feet.

“The study shows how incredibly sensitive the region’s snowpack is to increasing temperatures,” Sproles said. “The low snow years took place even though precipitation wasn’t that bad. But when it falls as rain instead of snow, it loses that ability to function as a natural reservoir in the mountains.”

The typically consistent flow of the McKenzie River in the summer of 2015 was only at 63 percent of its median flow.

“We don’t really know yet the impact of the 2015 low snowpack because some of the water takes as long as seven years to percolate through the ground and end up in the Willamette River,” Sproles said.

A comparatively cold and wet winter has made many Oregonians forget about the low-snowpack years of 2014 and 2015, Sproles said, but the region has been in a La Niña cycle – which is typically colder and wetter – and is expected to move toward neutral conditions by the end of February.

“It seems like much of the state has been socked with snow and ice this winter,” Sproles said, “but despite that, snowpack for the Sandy and Hood River basins is only 110 percent of normal and the Willamette basin snowpack is 124 percent of normal. That is certainly positive, but it seems like those numbers would be a lot higher considering what kind of winter we’ve had in the valley.”

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Eric Sproles,

510-629-1377, eric.sproles@gmail.com

AAAS and Oregon State University announce 2016 Fellows

WASHINGTON D.C.— Three Oregon State University professors have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

The OSU honorees are: Peter Clark, a distinguished professor of geosciences in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences; Alan Mix, a professor of geological oceanography in CEOAS; and Michael A. Osborne, a professor of history of science in the College of Liberal Arts.  

Clark and Mix were selected as part of the section geology and geography. Clark was elected for his seminal contributions toward understanding linkages among climate, ice sheets, and sea level over the past 100,000 years.

Mix was elected for distinguished contributions to the field of paleoceanography and paleoclimatology, particularly for improvement of proxy applications and understanding of the Quaternary ocean and climate dynamics.

Osborne was selected as part of the history and philosophy of science section. He was elected for distinguished contributions to the fields of the history of science and medicine with particular attention to the role of French colonialism and natural history.

This year 391 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science Nov. 25.

New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Feb. 18, 2017, during the 2017 AAAS annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

The tradition of AAAS Fellows began in 1874. Currently, members can be considered for the rank of Fellow if nominated by the steering groups of the Association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members or by the AAAS chief executive officer.

Fellows must have been continuous members of AAAS for four years by the end of the calendar year in which they are elected. Each steering group reviews the nominations of individuals within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council, which votes on the aggregate list.

 


 

About the American Association for the Advancement of Science: AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert! (www.eurekalert.org), the premier science news website, a service of AAAS. See www.aaas.org.

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Nkongho Beteck, 202-326-6434, nbeteck@aaas.org

West Coast record low snowpack in 2015 influenced by high temperatures

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The western-most region of the continental United States set records for low snowpack levels in 2015 and scientists, through a new study, point the finger at high temperatures, not the low precipitation characteristic of past “snow drought” years.

The study suggests greenhouse gases were a major contributor to the high temperatures, which doesn’t bode well for the future, according to authors of a new study published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

In 2015, more than 80 percent of the snow measurement sites in the region – comprised of California, Oregon, Washington, western Nevada and western Idaho – experienced record low snowpack levels that were a result of much warmer-than-average temperatures. Most of the previous records were set in 1977, when there just wasn’t enough moisture to generate snow, according to Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study.

“The 2015 snowpack season was an extreme year,” Mote said. “But because of the increasing influence of greenhouse gases, years like this may become commonplace over the next few decades.” Impacts of the snow drought in California, Oregon and Washington led the governors of those states to order reductions in water use and saw many ski areas, particularly those in lower elevations, struggle. 

California has been in a drought since 2011 and this multi-year period of low precipitation, by some measures, is the state’s most severe in 500 years. In 2015, higher temperatures combined with low precipitation, leading to one of its lowest snowpack levels on record.

Oregon and Washington experienced much higher-than-average temperatures during the 2014-15 winter but were not as dry overall as California. Oregon, in fact, was 6.5 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than average during that period. 

“The story of 2015 was really the exceptional warmth,” said Dennis Lettenmaier, distinguished professor of geography at University of California Los Angeles and co-author of the study. “Historically, droughts in the West have mostly been associated with dry winters, and only secondarily with warmth. But 2015 was different. The primary driver of the record low snowpacks was the warm winter, especially in California, but in Oregon and Washington as well.”

The 2015 year was an eye-opener for the scope of the snow drought:

  • A total of 454 sites in the western United States (or 81 percent of the total sites) recorded record-low snowpack levels that year;
  • For 111 of the sites, the April 1 value was zero for the first time ever, essentially indicating that there was no snow left;
  • The overall snowpack level on April 1 in California and Oregon was 90 percent below average.

To determine the impact of greenhouse gases, the researchers used tens of thousands of citizen computers, each running a regional climate simulation in a sort of crowd-sourced supercomputer. The researchers ran one set of simulations using actual sea surface temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions from December 2014 to September 2015. 

Then they ran a series of simulations with lower greenhouse gas levels corresponding to the pre-industrial era, and teased out the impacts. A third set of simulations used modern greenhouse gases but removed the unusual pattern of sea surface temperatures in 2014-15.

“The data showed that both greenhouse gases and sea surface temperature anomalies contributed strongly to the risk of snow drought in Oregon and Washington,” said Mote, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “The contribution of sea surface temperatures was about twice that of human influence for Oregon and Washington.” 

Higher sea surface temperatures led to a huge patch of warm water, dubbed “The Blob,” that appeared in the northern Pacific Ocean more than two years ago. Scientists aren’t sure why the blob formed, though many blame a ridge of high pressure that brought sunnier weather and less mixing of surface water with colder, deeper water.

“Some recent studies suggest that a high pressure ridge that caused warmer temperatures over land also created the blob, but our results suggest that the blob itself may also have contributed to the warm winter here,” Mote said.

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Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu; Dennis Lettenmaier, 310-794-4327; dlettenm@ucla.edu

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The year 2015 was the warmest on record for Oregon, resulting in low snowpacks and less water in many lakes and rivers. Pictured is Wallowa Lake in northeastern Oregon.

Wallowa Lake