OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of earth

Low-oxygen ‘dead zones’ in North Pacific linked to past ocean-warming events

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found a link between abrupt ocean warming at the end of the last ice age and the sudden onset of low-oxygen, or hypoxic conditions that led to vast marine dead zones.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Large-scale warming events about 14,700 and again 11,500 years ago occurred rapidly and triggered loss of oxygen in the North Pacific, raising concern that low-oxygen areas will expand again as the ocean warms in the future. Anomalous warmth occurring recently in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea – dubbed “The Blob” – is of a scale similar to the events documented in the geologic record, the researchers say. If such warming is sustained, oxygen loss becomes more likely.

Although many scientists believe that a series of low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Pacific Ocean off Oregon and Washington during the last decade may be caused by ocean warming, evidence confirming that link has been sparse.

However, the new study found a clear connection between two prehistoric intervals of abrupt ocean warming that ended the last ice age with an increase in the flux of marine plankton sinking to the seafloor, ultimately leading to a sudden onset of low-oxygen conditions, or hypoxia.

“Our study reveals a strong link between ocean warming, loss of oxygen, and an ecological shift to favor diatom production,” said lead author Summer Praetorius, who conducted the research as part of her doctoral studies at Oregon State University and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Institution for Science.

“During each warming event, the transition to hypoxia occurred abruptly and persisted for about 1,000 years, suggesting a feedback that sustained or amplified hypoxia.” Praetorius added.

Warmer water, by itself, is not sufficient to cause diatom blooms, nor hypoxia, the researchers note. Just as warming soda pop loses its fizzy gas, warmer seawater contains less dissolved oxygen, and this can start the oxygen decline. But it isn’t until there is accelerated blooming of microscopic diatoms – which have large shells and tend to sink more efficiently than other smaller types of plankton – that deoxygenation is amplified.

Diatoms are known to thrive in warm, stratified water, but they also require sources of nutrients and iron, according to Alan Mix, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the Nature study.

Surface warming also reduces upward mixing of nutrients from the deep sea. “So there are some competing effects,” Mix said, “and the final story depends on which effect wins.”

“The high-latitude North Pacific is rich in the common nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate, but it is poor in iron and this seems to be the key,” Mix said. “A partial loss of oxygen causes a chemical reaction that releases iron previously trapped in continental margin sediments – and this iron then fuels the diatoms, which bloom, die, and sink toward the seafloor, consuming oxygen along the way.”

The concern is just how rapid the ocean can respond, the researchers say.

“Many people have assumed that climate change impacts will be gradual and predictable,” Mix said, “but this study shows that the ecological consequences of climate change can be massive and can occur pretty fast, with little warning.”

Because the competing effects of mixing and iron may happen on different timescales, the exact sequence of events may be confusing.  On the scale of a few years, mixing may win, but on the scale of decades to centuries, the bigger effects kick into gear.  The geologic record studied by Praetorius and colleagues emphasized these longer scales.

The new discovery was the result of a decades-long effort by numerous researchers at Oregon State to collect marine sediment cores from the North Pacific, creating comprehensive, high-resolution records of climate change in the region. The temperature records come from trace quantities of organic molecules, called biomarkers, produced by plankton. This method of temperature sensing from sedimentary records was developed and tested by Fred Prahl, a professor emeritus at OSU.

“We tested many different strategies for reconstructing past temperature and looked at the imperfections of the geologic record, but these temperature records emerged as the most precise available,” Prahl said.

In addition to “The Blob” – the unusually warm ocean temperatures seen across the North Pacific – this year has seen a record-breaking algal bloom dominated by a certain species of diatom, Praetorius noted.

“While it’s too soon to know how this event ties into the long-term climate patterns that will emerge in the future, the current conditions seem eerily reminiscent of the past conditions that gave way to extended periods of hypoxia,” she said.

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Summer Praetorius, 510-648-5027, spraetorius@carnegiescience.edu; Alan Mix, 541-737-5212, mix@ceoas.oregonstate.edu

Future Cascadia earthquake to be discussed at Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When “The Really Big One” ran in The New Yorker in July, the potential for a catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest captured national attention.

At the Oct. 12 Corvallis Science Pub, Chris Goldfinger, a primary source for the story, will discuss the 13-year research effort that led him to conclude that the Pacific Northwest faces a 37 percent chance of a major break along the southern portion of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, from Northern California to about Newport, in the next 50 years. The probability of such a rupture is lower — about 10 to 15 percent — on the northern section, which extends to British Columbia.

Such a break could generate a quake and tsunami similar to those that struck Japan in 2011.

The Science Pub presentation begins at 6 pm and is free and open to the public. Normally held at the Old World Deli, this event will take place in a different location, the Majestic Theater, 115 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

Goldfinger, a professor in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, has studied seafloor sediments off the Pacific Northwest coast and found patterns of disturbance that indicate when major quakes occurred. He has identified 19 major breaks along the Cascadia in the last 10,000 years.

In addition to this work, in 2007 he led a study of an Indian Ocean subduction zone near Indonesia, which had ruptured in 2004 in a 9.15 event, the third largest ever recorded. It generated tsunamis that killed an estimated 230,000 people in 14 countries.

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

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Chris Goldfinger, 541-737-2066

Two OSU faculty receive prestigious ‘early career’ awards

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Two Oregon State University faculty members have received prestigious early career awards from national entities. 

Both are in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Emily Shroyer received a 2015 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research. An expert in the physics of oceans and atmospheres, Shroyer received the award for her proposal to study the small-scale processes that control the movement and mixing of heat and fresh water within the ocean. Her work investigates “internal waves” that propagate beneath the ocean’s surface, redistributing energy and mass.

“Waves beneath the ocean's surface can break and mix water very effectively. They can transport mass, plankton, and larvae from one region to another. And, the large fluctuations in temperature that accompany these waves alter sound propagation through the local environment,” Shroyer said.

Angelicque “Angel” White has been named a 2015 recipient of the Ocean Sciences Early Career Award, which she will receive this December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. White, an ocean ecologist and biogeochemist, was cited for her contribution to the understanding of the relationship between microbial communities and surrounding seawater.

“Understanding the biological and physical relationships in the ocean is a daunting challenge,” White said. “We dunk bottles in the ocean, we send little drones into the seas, we tether moorings and launch drifters, we scan the surface with satellites, yet in the end, we see so very little of this immense, moving, alive and fluid ocean.”

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Abby Metzger, 541-737-3295, ametzger@coas.oregonstate.edu 

Oregon State research reaches record, exceeds $308 million

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University research funding reached $308.9 million, its highest level ever, in the fiscal year that ended on June 30. A near doubling of revenues from licensing patented technologies and an 8.5 percent increase in competitive federal funding fueled OSU research on a range of projects including advanced ocean-going research vessels, the health impacts of pollution and sustainable materials for high-speed computing.

“This is a phenomenal achievement. I've seen how OSU research is solving global problems and providing innovations that mean economic growth for Oregon and the nation,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU’s vice president for research who undertook her duties on August 31. “OSU’s research performance in the last year is amazing, given that federal funds are so restricted right now.”

The overall economic and societal impact of OSU’s research enterprise exceeds $670 million, based on an analysis of OSU’s research contributions to the state and global economy that followed a recent economic study of OSU’s fiscal impact conducted by ECONorthwest.

Technology licensing almost doubled in the last year alone, from just under $6 million in 2014 to more than $10 million this year. Leading investments from business and industry were patented Oregon State innovations in agriculture, advanced materials and nuclear technologies.

OSU researchers exceeded the previous record of $288 million, which the university achieved in 2010. Although federal agencies provided the bulk of funding, most of the growth in OSU research revenues over the past five years stems from nonprofit organizations and industry.

Since 2010, total private-sector funding from sponsored contracts, research cooperatives and other sources has risen 60 percent — from $25 million to more than $40 million in 2015. Oregon State conducts research with multinationals such as HP, Nike and Boeing as well as with local firms such as Benchmade Knife of Oregon City, Sheldon Manufacturing of Cornelius and NuScale Power of Corvallis.

By contrast, federal research grants in 2015 were only 0.2 percent higher than those received in 2010, a year in which American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds gave university research a one-time shot in the arm across the country. According to the National Science Foundation, federal agency obligations for research have dropped from a high of $36 billion in 2009 to $29 billion in 2013, the last year for which cumulative figures are available. The Department of Health and Human Services accounted for more than half of that spending.

“We’ve worked hard to diversify our research portfolio,” said Ron Adams, who retired as interim vice president for research at the end of August. “But it’s remarkable that our researchers have succeeded in competing for an increase in federal funding. This speaks to the success of our strategic initiatives and our focus on clusters of excellence.”

Economic impact stems in part from new businesses launched this year through the Oregon State University Advantage program. Among them are:

  •  OnBoard Dynamics, a Bend company designing a natural-gas powered vehicle engine that can be fueled from home
  •  Valliscor, a Corvallis company that manufactures ultra-pure chemicals
  • eChemion, a Corvallis company that develops and markets technology to extend battery life

Altogether, 15 new companies have received mentoring assistance from Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator program, part of the state-funded Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN. Six new companies are working with the Advantage program this fall.

Additional economic impact stems from the employment of students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty. According to the OSU Research Office, about a quarter of OSU undergraduates participate in research projects, many with stipends paid by grant funds. In addition, grants support a total of 843 graduate research positions and 165 post-doctoral researchers.

The College of Agricultural Sciences received the largest share of research grants at Oregon State with $49.4 million last year, followed by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at $39 million and the College of Engineering at $37 million. The College of Science saw a 170 percent increase in research funding to $26.7 million, its largest total ever and the biggest rise among OSU colleges. Among the largest grants received in FY15 were:

  •  $8 million from the NSF to the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (College of Science) for new high-speed information technologies
  •  $4 million from the Department of Energy to reduce barriers to the deployment of ocean energy systems (College of Engineering)
  •  $4 million from US Agency for International Development to the AquaFish Innovation Lab (College of Agricultural Sciences) for global food security
  •  $3.5 million from the USDA for experiential learning to reduce obesity (College of Public Health and Human Sciences)
  •  $2.3 million from the NSF for the ocean observing initiative (College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences)
  •  $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education for school readiness in early childhood (OSU Cascades)

 

Editor’s Note: FY15 research totals for OSU colleges and OSU-Cascades are posted online.

College of Agricultural Sciences: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/story/osu%E2%80%99s-college-agricultural-sciences-receives-494-million-research-grants 

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/features/funding/

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

College of Engineering:  http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/fy15-research-funding-highlights

College of Forestry: http://www.forestry.oregonstate.edu/research/college-forestry-receives-near-record-grant-awards-fy-2015

College of Liberal Arts: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/cla-research/2015-research-summary

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

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

College of Science: http://impact.oregonstate.edu/2015/08/record-year-for-research-funding/

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

OSU-Cascades: http://osucascades.edu/research-and-scholarship 

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Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research, 541-737-0664; Rich Holdren on OSU research trends, 541-737-8390; Brian Wall on business spinoffs and commercialization, 541-737-9058

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Surface chemistry research

Masters students at OSU worked to improve the performance of thin-film transistors used in liquid crystal displays. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

OOI mooring

The Oregon shelf surface mooring is lowered to the water using the R/V Oceanus ship's crane. (photo courtesy of Oregon State University). Wave Energy

The Ocean Sentinel, a wave energy testing device, rides gentle swells near Newport, Ore. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University) Hernandez3-2

An undergraduate student at the Autonomous Juarez University of Tabasco, Mexico, is working with cage culture of cichlids in an educational partnership with the AquaFish collaborative Support Program. (Photo: Tiffany Woods)

New unmanned aircraft center should spur research, growth in evolving technology

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University was named this month by the Federal Aviation Administration to be part of the nation’s Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and university officials are now making plans for the roles it will play in this new initiative.

OSU is one of 15 of the nation’s leading universities in this field, in a team that will be led by Mississippi State University. An initial $5 million in funding was granted to support a diverse agenda of research, training and certification of unmanned aircraft, with additional funding expected during the five-year agreement.

“This further puts OSU and Oregon on the map of leaders in unmanned aircraft systems,” said Michael Wing, director of the Aerial Information System Lab at OSU. “It will help us form ties with multiple institutions and partnerships, stimulate both public and private funding, and build on some of our historic strengths in fields such as remote sensing.”

Representatives of the new center will meet in early June in Washington, D.C., to begin plans for the program, Wing said. Some of the initial areas of emphasis will include detect and avoid technology; low-altitude operations safety; control and communications; spectrum management; human factors; compatibility with air traffic control operations; and training and certification of pilots and crew members.

Some of OSU’s early contributions, Wing said, may be in the area of low-altitude operations safety; detection and avoidance; human factors; and certification of flight operations.

“We envision some early work in Oregon being done with things such as wildfire monitoring and low-altitude, precision monitoring for agriculture or wildlife operations,” Wing said.

Some of that is already taking place. OSU has now gained 30 FAA agreements for locations to use unmanned aircraft throughout Oregon and the U.S. Applications include fire surveys, vineyard health, and identifying salmon spawning beds in rivers and streams. The salmon spawning bed identification work was highly successful, and the data quality exceeded what could be obtained by far more expensive and manned helicopters, Wing said.

The Center of Excellence of which OSU is a part already has 113 corporate partners nationally, Wing said, and more will be added. It was formed in competition with other applicants, and it’s expected that a complete research agenda will be developed by next year.

Two years ago, OSU was also selected as part of the Pan-Pacific Test Site, one of six test sites around the nation designed to help develop the use of unmanned aerial systems for civilian use. It will collaborate with the University of Alaska and Hawaii on that initiative, and offer some of the most unique land forms in the nation on which to test new technologies.

The three states have an extraordinary range of terrain in which to test new systems: mountains, rivers, valleys, high desert, Arctic tundra, volcanoes, many types of forest and agricultural areas, and tropical islands.

University, business and state leaders have said that the production, testing, research and use of unmanned aerial systems should be able to play an important role in Oregon’s future economic growth, employment and career opportunities.

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Michael Wing, 541-737-4009

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Ocean acidification discussion on tap at Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It’s been called the “evil twin” of climate change. As the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and surface waters become more acidic, changes to marine ecosystems are likely to follow. Coral reefs, shell-forming organisms and the fish and marine mammals that depend on them are at risk.

At the May 11 Corvallis Science Pub, George Waldbusser will describe what scientists know about the biological effects of ocean acidification. The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

On average, the oceans are about 30 percent more acidic today than they were a century ago, and impacts are already being seen along the West Coast. Waldbusser and his students have turned their attention to the region’s oyster industry, which had $73 million in sales in 2009.

Oyster larvae are sensitive to acidification and Waldbusser, an assistant professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, is working to understand why.

“With larval oysters, what we see are developmental issues,” he said. “From the time eggs are fertilized, Pacific oyster larvae will precipitate roughly 90 percent of their body weight as a calcium carbonate shell within 48 hours.”

His research has been supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oregon Sea Grant and other agencies.

Waldbusser received his Ph.D. in biological oceanography at the University of Maryland in 2008. In addition to professional publications, his research has appeared in the New York Times, CBS and NBC News, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mother Jones magazine and Forbes.

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

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George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964

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Pacific Northwest volcanoes focus of Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Pacific Northwest owes some of its most dramatic scenery to the majesty of Cascade volcanoes, but the real action lies out of sight underground.

At the March 9 Corvallis Science Pub, Adam Schultz, director of the National Geoelectromagnetic Facility at Oregon State University, will describe what scientists have discovered about the plumbing beneath Oregon and Washington.

Like an MRI of the human body, the technology known as magnetotellurics reveals contrasts in the electrical properties of the Earth. The resulting images illuminate the nature of subsurface structures, including their geometry and possible composition. When scientists apply this and other methods in the same location, they can improve interpretations of these features

A professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, Schultz also directs the magnetotelluric component of Earthscope. This National Science Foundation-funded program investigates North America’s basement, the structure of the continental plate from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Schultz received his Ph.D. in 1986 from the University of Washington. He has taught at the University of Cambridge and Cardiff University in the United Kingdom and came to OSU in 2003.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis. Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Adam Schultz, 541-737-3811

OSU among best Earth and environmental sciences programs in the world

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is ranked among the strongest Earth and environmental sciences programs in the world by the journal Nature.

OSU is ranked 30th among all programs (which includes both universities and federal agencies), 20th among world universities, and 16th among American universities.

The rankings are based on the number of articles by researchers associated with an institution that appear in one of 68 natural science journals that comprise the Nature Index, with a weighted score given to articles with a large number of citations by other researchers, as well as the amount of attention received online.

The top five institutions are all agencies, led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In second was the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, followed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in third; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), fourth; and the French National Centre for Scientific Research, fifth.

The leading university is the California Institute of Technology, which overall ranked sixth in the world. Other leading U.S. universities included the University of Colorado, seventh; the University of California at San Diego, eighth; and the University of Washington, 10th.

Among non-U.S. academic institutions, the University of Tokyo was ranked highest at 11th. Other international leaders were the University of Oxford, 14th; Utrecht University in The Netherlands, 23rd; and Australian National University, 29th.

Oregon State has strong international programs in Earth and marine sciences – primarily in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, but also in several other colleges.

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Jack Barth, 541-737-1607; barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Expert on subsurface life to present Condon Lecture

CORVALLIS, Ore. – T.C. Onstott, a geologist, geochemist, biogeochemist and expert on unusual microbial life forms in the Arctic and deep beneath the surface of the Earth, will present the 2014 Thomas Condon Lecture on Thursday, Nov. 20, at Oregon State University.

The lecture is free, open to the public and designed for a non-specialist audience. It is titled "The Hidden Universe."

The presentation will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Construction and Engineering Hall of the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus, preceded by a reception with refreshments. The Condon Lecture, named after a pioneer of Oregon geology, helps to interpret significant scientific research for non-scientists.

Onstott is a professor of geochemistry in the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University. He has won numerous awards, and was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2008.

Onstott studies subsurface microbial life and microbial ecosystems of permafrost, and its implications for global warming, petroleum biodegradation, life on Mars and the origin of life. The work also raises questions about how deeply into a planet life can penetrate and whether life could originate inside a planet.

This research has explored the Canadian High Arctic, the mines of South Africa to depths of more than two miles, and Yellowstone National Park. Onstott’s research also involves collaborations with NASA scientists on the development of space-flight capable instrumentation for detecting life. 

Onstott will also give a more technical presentation on a related topic, in the George Moore Lecture titled “Carbon cycling in the deep subsurface: Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” That event will be Friday, Nov. 21, at noon in Gilbert Hall, Room 124.

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

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Rick Colwell, 541-737-5220

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T.C. Onstott
T.C. Onstott

Corvallis Science Pub focuses on the future of the oceans

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Warming ocean temperatures, rising acidity and reduced biological productivity threaten the livelihoods of about 2 billion people who depend on marine ecosystems, according to a report by an international team of 29 scientists last fall.

At the May 12 Corvallis Science Pub, Andrew Thurber, a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University who helped to conceive the study, will discuss how the oceans are responding to a changing climate. The Science Pub presentation, which is free and open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. in the Majestic Theater located at 115 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis.

“What is really sobering about these findings is that they don’t even include other impacts to the world’s oceans such as sea level rise, pollution, over-fishing, and increasing storm intensity and frequency,” he said. “All of these could compound the problem significantly.”

Thurber’s research focuses on deep-sea ecosystems, particularly the role of invertebrates in recycling nutrients and sequestering carbon. He has conducted experiments under seasonal sea ice in Antarctica and explored communities that live around methane seeps near New Zealand and Costa Rica.

Thurber received his Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation.

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

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Andrew Thurber, 541-737-8251